What to do When the Cork Crumbles | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

What to do When the Cork Crumbles

What to do When the Cork Crumbles

Cork crumbled while opening a bottle of wine? Here's what to do.

L’Chaim addresses questions about wine corks, reverse osmosis, and pronunciation

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It’s time once again to check my email bag for your wine and spirits questions.

Q: Lately, I’ve had a bunch of wine corks that basically fell apart or crumbled to bits while opening the bottle—is that a sign the wine is damaged?

A: Not exactly. Think of it as more of a logical potential inference than a solid and certain deduction. A cork that breaks apart easily upon encountering the business end of the corkscrew doesn’t necessarily portent disaster for the wine in that bottle, though it does suggest a potential problem. After all, the cork may simply have given its all right up to the bitter end, without any compromise to the wine. There is little point in speculating; the only certain way to determine if a wine is damaged by oxygen leaking through the cork seal is to taste it.

Presuming that you have, and the corkscrew you are using has, more often than not successfully removed corks without tearing them apart (i.e., it isn’t the fault of your technique or an inadequate corkscrew), a cork that crumbles can be due to excessive dryness or heat during storage, or the cork might have begun life badly—fashioned or inserted into the bottle poorly.

So, do taste the wine before throwing it out, as it may very well have remained entirely uncompromised by the cork lying in bits before you. But maybe have a second or alternative bottle to hand just in case.

Q: What is “reverse osmosis” and why might a winemaker use it?

A: Reverse Osmosis (or RO) is a specialized type of filtration based on the principle of cross-flow filtration. Rather than liquid passing through the filter membrane in a perpendicular fashion, the liquid instead runs over or parallel to the filter membrane under pressure, scrubbing along and scouring the surface of the filter membrane. The pressure causes water, some salts, and alcohol, which are the smallest molecules in wine, to pass through the membrane filter, while most of the rest of the wine’s elements, like the tannins, and the matter responsible for pigment, flavor, and aroma, are retained or left behind. RO is most typically used to adjust a wine’s alcoholic content, reduce a wine’s volatile acidity, or concentrate the unfermented freshly crushed grape juice. Although it is still considered a controversial wine manipulation by many, RO is widely used across the wine-making world—just another tool in a modern winemaker’s toolbox.

Q: What is the proper way to pronounce Pinot Noir?

A: Pinot Noir, the name of a red wine grape and the wines made from that grape, is pronounced “pee-noh n’-war” or perhaps “nwär” captures it better. The name Pinot Noir comes from the French words for pine and black—pine because the grape grows in tightly clustered bunches that resemble pine cones.

Pinot Noir is also the primary red grape grown in France’s Burgundy wine region; when folks talk of red Burgundy or Bourgogne Rouge, they're talking about Pinot Noir. This is also one of the grapes used in France’s Champagne wine region. Besides France, Pinot Noir is used to make some great wines around the world, including in California, Oregon, New Zealand, and Australia.

Q: What’s good this week?

A: Vitkin, Pinot Noir, 2016 ($30): Grown in the Ella Valley region and aged in French oak barrels for 10 months, this unfiltered, Mediterranean Pinot Noir is bright, light, fruity (cherry, cranberry, raspberry), mildly earthy, with some interesting herbal notes. With soft tannins and decent balancing acidity, this is easy to drink on its own, but really hungers for poultry or salmon. L’Chaim!

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