Why You Should Always Return Corked Wine

Friday, December 19, 2008

In the past couple of months I've opened 3 corked bottles of wine. How do I know they were corked? Great question. Read on...

From some Google searching I found quite a few sites that give some information I believe to be inaccurate (this video is completely off the mark as far as I can tell), but I found the following page to be quite helpful and accurate: http://www.wine-tastings-guide.com/corked-wine.html

This site describes the smell of a corked wine as follows (and it has nothing to with whether the cork has a good seal or whether the wine has "bled" through the cork as described in that misleading video):

"the aroma of a corked wine as being musty or moldy, like wet newspaper or cardboard, a wet dog or a damp, moldy basement. In other words, it smells like musty mold"

I personally think another comparison worth making is that corked wine smells like the rind of Brie cheese. Wine should *not* smell like this! Wine should smell delcious and fruity- not austere and moldy like a nasty cellar.

I think the reason why we're afraid, as consumers, to return a wine that we suspect is corked is because we're afraid that we're wrong and that we don't know wine. I think this video captures the awkwardness of the situation from the expert's side of the issue:

Nobody wants to be that shmuck of a customer who "poo poos" a wine and returns it demanding another bottle, so we say nothing and drink a wine we don't care for.

Recently, we did our grocery shopping at the Whole Foods Market in nearby Wayland, MA. The Wine Buyer there, Wayne Dills, is a great guy. In the few times I've been there I've seen that he won't let a shopper pass through his wine section without at least saying hello or asking if he can help. We started chatting last time I was in there, and he recommended a couple of inexpensive bottles. I brought them home and immediately opened one of them up. Deanna wasn't impressed- she thought it was "funky". I of course wanted to plow through and enjoy it but after a couple of sips I agreed with her. It just wasnt right. It smelled like moldy cheese. It didn't smell good at all. The next day I brought it back, but I didn't just want a refund- I wanted Wayne to assess the wine and let me know whether he thought it was corked. One whiff and he agree- it was indeed corked.

I found what happened next really interesting. While Wayne was smelling and tasting the wine a woman who was shopping in the area asked if we were doing a wine tasting. Wayne explained that "no, we were just smelling what corked wine smells like- wanna smell it"? She gave it a whiff and said that she smells wine like that all the time and didn't know that's what corked wine smells like. And then another guy came by and was also intrigued. It was really educational- how would we know what corked wine smells like other than an occasion like this?

I explained to Wayne that I'm sometimes bashful about returning wines I suspect are corked because I don't want to be "that guy". He replied that he was *glad* I brought the wine back because retailers can easily exchange corked wines for new bottles from the distributor -and- he'd much rather have me bring back a wine that I suspected of being corked rather than quietly think that his recommendation was a poor one. This is why you should always return corked wine. I'd never thought of it from that angle!

In conclusion, here are some recommendations for dealing with corked wines:
  • Return the bottle as close to full as possible. If you've poured multiple glasses, pour them back into the bottle with a funnel. You don't want to look like you guzzled half the bottle and then want a refund.
  • Buy locally from trusted local wine stores to enable easy returns. Establishing relationships with trusted local wine stores can benefit you on a number of levels.
  • Ask the most knowledgable employee in the store for their opinion of the wine. That way you won't come off looking like a wine snob- you're honestly asking their opinion for your educational purposes.
  • If the store doesn't care to assess whether the wine is corked or not and refuses to give you a refund it is definitely time to look for a new wine store. I've read some estimates that as much as 10% of wines are corked so you can't afford to be losing 10% of your wine spend on bad bottles.
Question of the Day: Have you had the courage to return a corked bottle of wine to a store? At a restaurant?


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