Taintsgiving

Not a bad dinner, as Thanksgivings go when you’re cooking at someone else’s house. In my mother-in-law’s kitchen I found a terrifically sharp knife, mirabile dictu, and we had enough time to go for a walk in the Jackson-Frazier Wetland and still have food on the table by late afternoon. On the downside, an inaccurate meat thermometer led to a slightly overcooked duck, and I broke the gravy, partly because the glass-top stove remains a pain in the ass to use. Worst of all, though, was that the Garagistes 2009 extended-maceration Cabernet Sauvignon, which tasted so good after the last press of 2010 just last week, was unmistakably corked.

I don’t know what my fellow Garagistes’ experience has been; I’ve come across only three or four corked bottles of our own wine that I can recall. A good record, given estimates of the prevalence of cork taint that generally run much higher, but a disappointment at a family gathering for which I’d brought one bottle. Even for a glass-half-corked kind of person, though, there’s sometimes an upside, and in this case it was that seated next to me was the chemist husband of my sister-in-law. We got to talking about corked wine, and he mentioned that he’d come across this article about recent advances in the Global War Against Taint. The short version is that the authors of a study recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have identified a microbe that produces 2-methoxy-3,5-dimethylpyrazine, or MDMP, one of the compounds principally associated with cork taint. As they say on the interblogs, read the whole thing—especially if you thought the culprit was just 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA, because boy are you behind the times.

2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Ziraud December 5th, 2010 11:08 am

    Wow, thanks, James — I was sooo behind the times! Now it’s another labyrinthine chemical name to try to memorize…

    My experience with corked corks is similar to yours, but mostly with older bottles. What I ought to do is to put out the call to Garagistes to track corked bottles to get a true sense of its impact.

    What’s a little confusing about that article is its vagueness about how MDMP manifests itself. It suggests oak chips are a major culprit, but that would taint an entire barrel or carboy (vs one bottle), so that’s not what’s affecting us, or really, most wines (which manifest in single bottles, not entire bottlings). Then it also fingers “untreated corks,” which, unless there’s some technical meaning to the term, we (and most producers) also don’t use.

    But as the article says, they’re just beginning to track down “R-excellencis” (the responsible bug, more aptly named R’nt-excellencis), so we’ll see what they come up with.

  2. jmcq December 6th, 2010 2:39 pm

    A cork-specific origin does seem to make the most sense, but I can imagine other ways contamination could be limited to individual bottles—say, if microbes came in on minute particles of oak in the lees, which wouldn’t be distributed throughout the bottling run. Without the benefit of scientific knowledge, of course, I could imagine all sorts of scenarios in which I’m not fundamentally ignorant. Tracking tainted bottles is a good idea, and I should add that while I’ve come across few obviously corked ones, there have likely been others tainted only to the point of suppressing the flavor and aroma but not of unleashing the telltale horrid odor.