Wino Confidential: Stank Wine
Trying to determine where that uncomfortable smell comes from can leave you searching for clues that are right under your nose.
By Dinkinish O'Connor
I stood corrected. And I felt stupid. Was the wine really not corked? It tasted that way to me. Both wines did. But Frantz Owner of Wine Castle (name change) insisted they were not corked. So, what is a corked wine? In my book, it was a spoiled wine - a wine that has lost its smell and/or tasted like Pine Sol. A stank wine.
2005 Clos des Fees Les Sorcieres
2007 Vinos de Fabula Vivir, Vivir Ribera del Duero
My friend Lisa was also having a stank moment. The guy she recently married (Karl, the banker) was super anal about cleanliness. There were Purell bottles tacked onto every wall in every room of their condo. He kept antibacterial wipes under his bed, next to his couch and in his car. Everyday he ate a pack of those Listerine strips. Every night he washed with Dial soap and polished off with a cactus oatmeal scrub. Karl’s assistant even had to use disposable gloves when organizing his desk and bringing him his lunch. And, yet, he had body odor, we think. A few weeks after the marriage, every time Lisa and Karl came around, they seemed followed by a ghastly wet carpet aroma.
“Just tell him. I had a similar problem with a guy I dated in Brooklyn,” I told her.
“Tell him that he stinks.”
“I mean, does he smell while you’re…”
“No! That’s the weird part. BUT HE SMELLS EVERY TIME WE’RE TOGETHER OTHERWISE.”
“I’m having a similar problem with these wines I recently bought on sale for 10 bucks. One, the Clos des Fees, didn’t have a smell. It was flat and dull, and the flavors were really astringent, and the Fabula Vivir was equally dull and lifeless. They didn’t capture any of the dynamic fruit, spice and earth characteristics described in the e-mail. I thought they were corked, so I brought them back, but the owner said they weren’t corked.
He stuck his beautiful, sharp nose deep inside each bottle, and said, “I knew they weren’t corked. Is impossible. Is impossible that both bottles would be corked. You must let them breathe.”
(He sounded like that cute, little French mouse on Tom & Jerry.)
“I fail to see the connection here, but did he let you get a new bottle?”
“Yeah, I got this fantastic Pinot Noir, Girl. But I still feel bad, like I should know better. Also, dude gave me that belittling French blow-off.”
“You’re being self-conscious. S&#!, maybe you’re right, and he’s wrong. Karl’s the one who should know better. He should know if ^&*%$#& stinks or not.”
So many things can happen to a wine before it gets to your palate. It can be exposed to too much sun. It can sit in someone’s glacier-slash-storage room or underneath someone’s cabinet that’s next to an oven. Then, there are these other little, scientific nuances that can give wine the appearance of being bad, but they’re not. Or sometimes they are. Brett, also known as brettanomyces, is “a spoilage yeast that typically infects old, unclean barrels and results in (depending on the strength of its presence) either faintly sweet or downright nasty barnyard odors,” writes Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth. He also lovingly calls “Brett” a beauty mark, a mole above the lip a.k.a. a disfigurement (P.S. I have a mole above my lip - lol).
Anyway, I was confused. Didn’t corked wine just mean bad wine? So, I did some research and low and behold, I was wrong. There are several different terms to describe a bad wine. Corked means that the wine has come in contact with a tainted cork during the aging process. Then there’s that unmistakable stank booty, Pine Sol-smell and slight rubbing alcohol taste you encounter. Oxidized means the wine was exposed to oxygen and became impotent. Maderized means it baked during shipment or in someone’s cupboard. Refermented means that the wine has undergone a second fermentation…by accident (It’s real complicated. Still trying to get it.) Well, how can one know, “Poof! This is refermented wine.” I guess, I still have a lot to learn about this grapy lover of mine.
“It was me,” Lisa announced.
“It was you what?”
“It was me with the corked-smelling ass,” Lisa whimpered on the other line.
“Yeah, the other night, when Karl was trying to … his face collapsed on my stomach, and he said, ‘Babe, we need to have a talk.”