I had what I’m sure would have been a great wine to share with you tonight: the 2008 Enzo Boglietti Dolcetto d’Alba from the Piedmont wine region in northwest Italy. Boglietti is a renowned producer, and Dolcetto (literally, “little sweet one” in Italian) is a grape varietal that probably gets less attention than it should, one that routinely churns out fruity, rustic, soft, food-friendly, value-driven comfort wines. I had the kind of day that cried out for that kind of armchair-by-the-fireplace wine, and when I poured the first glass, the juicy, vibrant purple colour of the Dolcetto instantly reaffirmed my selection. I swirled the glass, took a few deep sniffs, and smelled…
It was flat out bad. Rotting meat, sulphur, a mildewy, musty odour like a full can of garbage that’s been sitting in your garage for a week. Rest assured, the wine was not supposed to smell like that; it had definitely gone off somehow. In the interests of science and blog journalism, I had a taste (though it took some internal convincing to drink something that smelled that horrible) and found much less compost-esque flavours but no life at all in the wine. It was flat, thin and bitter, with faded fruit and significant levels of acid. For an ultra-fruity varetial like Dolcetto from a vintage as recent as 2008, the wine doesn’t taste like that unless something went wrong. So what did?
One of the most common bottle faults that affect the wine inside is cork taint, which apparently affects around 5% of the bottles sold on the market, although if 1 of every 20 bottles I’ve cracked has been corked I’ve been oblivious to date. A corked wine is one whose cork has been contaminated during its production by a compound called TCA (otherwise cheerfully known as 2,4,6-trichloroanisole), which the human nose can detect even at a few parts per trillion. TCA affects natural corks only (so fake plastic corks and screwtops are safe) but wines with other closures can still be “corked” if the barrels or facilities involved in the winemaking are contaminated. When a wine comes into contact with a TCA-infected cork during bottle aging, it takes on a host of unpleasant flavour characteristics, the most common being smells described as “wet cardboard/newspaper” or “musty basement”. On the palate, corked wines taste austere and lack fruit flavours.
I don’t know if my bottle of Boglietti was corked or not, as I have only smelled corked wine once or twice before in my life, but it may well have been, and if it wasn’t there was clearly something else wrong with it. So what happens now? Are you playing Russian Roulette with your disposable income if 5% of your wine purchases are destined for the kitchen sink? Thankfully, no. Not enough people know this, but if you buy your wine at a specialty wine shop (and not the Booze-Mart on the corner), they will almost always take back your bottle and give you a refund or replacement if you say something is wrong with it. If you open a bottle that seems off, put the cork back in it and bring the re-corked bottle back to the store to exchange it. I would suggest not doing what I did the first time I returned wine: dumping the bottle’s contents before bringing it back. ”Hi, I’d like to return this totally empty bottle of wine. No, I poured it down the sink. No, really. Can I get a new one now?” A good wine shop will be happy you brought the wine back instead of writing it off as a poor drinking experience (and writing them off in turn for recommending it).
So there you go. A bit of a downer to start off the week, but you can learn something even on crappy wine nights. If you’re wondering, the 2008 Enzo Boglietti Dolcetto d’Alba is $25-30 CDN and is probably very good…I’ll try to seek it out again so I can give its proper day in the PnP sun. Fingers crossed for a TCA-free Tuesday!