Corked wine identification?
July 15, 2006 9:43 PM   Subscribe

This wine's cork has gritty brown crystal and organic matter on the bottom. What is that? Is it bad? I don't want to drink it until i know...

I just opened a bottle of 2004 Sweet Cheeks Winery Pinot Noir. The cork has weird stuff on it. I've googled as much as I can about this and i'm not sure it fits the definition of "corked" (it doesn't smell like a wet basement).
posted by Señor Pantalones to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
Does it smell off at all?
posted by MeetMegan at 9:50 PM on July 15, 2006

Best answer: Many wines have sediment, or solids, that will settle over time. However, it sounds like you are describing something (growing?) on the cork. Cork, due to its porous nature, is never 100% sterile, and is thus subject to bacterial growth under the proper conditions. If it appears that there is organic growth, like a fungus or mold, then err on the side of caution and discard the wine. On the other hand, if it is simply sediment from the wine (it appears "earthy" and grainy), then just decant into a separate container to separate the wine.
posted by galimatias at 9:55 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: Yes, and when I poured some out to answer that question, some more sediment came out.

So I just had the tiniest sip of it, and OH MY GOD it's so disgustingly acidic. Gross. Well, now I know it's "bad." Is it also "corked" or something else?
posted by Señor Pantalones at 9:57 PM on July 15, 2006

Best answer: They're likely tartaric acid crystals. This usually happens when the corks are soaked in a sterlizing solution before they're installed. This crystallization is somewhat rare, and shouldn't affect the taste/safety. Take a sip -- if it doesn't smell or taste off, it's OK.
posted by frogan at 9:58 PM on July 15, 2006

Well, if it tastes bad, then toss it. ;-)
posted by frogan at 9:59 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: thanks!
posted by Señor Pantalones at 10:02 PM on July 15, 2006

It could have oxidized.
posted by MeetMegan at 10:02 PM on July 15, 2006

From a FAQ on wine faults:

Are the crystals found in some wines harmful?
You will quite often spot clear crystals that look rather like sugar in the bottom of a bottle or glass. Sometimes the crystals attach themselves to the cork if the bottle has been stored on its side. They are "Tartaric Acid Crystals" (also known as "Tartrates") and are neither harmful to the drinker or the wine.

Tartaric Acid is a natural component found in grapes, and therefore wine, that crytalises when wine becomes very cold, or if the wine is old. Tartrates are usually a sign of a quality wine that has not been over-treated during vinification.

Your crystals are dark rather than clear, which is one point of difference. My sources also seem to claim that this fault is found in white wines but not red. However, this set of reviews mentions tartrate crystals found in a 1973 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon. So yeah, if it smells ok, then tastes OK, drink it in good health!
posted by rosemere at 10:08 PM on July 15, 2006

Err -- and if it tastes like sour cat piss, toss it out.
posted by rosemere at 10:12 PM on July 15, 2006

One of the best wines I've ever had had a lovely array of these crystals on the bottom of its cork. They're sparkly - I have the cork in front of me - but they aren't clear; they are wine-colored.

It couldn't have been a "fault;" this wine was wonderful. I just assumed that it was a very concentrated/extracted wine, which it certainly tastes like.

Sounds like your wine had something different the matter with it, though.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:46 PM on July 15, 2006

Interesting to note that during the time that red wine is aged in the large wooden barrels, a lot of tartrates form and have to be removed every so often. The reason is that the wood actually breaths a bit and the crystal plaque blocks this process.

The crazy thing is that after they transfer the wine out to a storage tank, someone actually crawls in and scrapes off the sediment from the barrel walls. You can see an example of the barrels here, although it's tough to make out the little door on the front - not much bigger than your head and one shoulder. The crystals look like this, though not as blurry in real life. Once the sediment is removed the wine is returned back to the cask. The cost of wine has a lot to do with the amount they have to do this process. Very labor intensive.

Also, the tartaric acid is what is used to make cream of tartar.
posted by qwip at 11:43 PM on July 15, 2006

Yeah, what you've got there is tartaric acid crystals - not uncommon in wines that haven't been cold-stabilised. The crystals don't taste great, but they're harmless, and not an indication that the wine is ruined. If the wine tastes wrong, it's probably unrelated to the tartrates.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:04 AM on July 16, 2006

this once happened to a server I used to know:
After decanting a fine bottle of Cabernet for a table, and after it was consumed with pleasure, the server goes to clear away both the bottle and the decanter. The guests implore him to leave the bottle. They proceed to seperate the small amount of wine remaining in the bottle from the sediment, and then to consume the sediment. "This," they exclaim, "is the best part."
posted by baphomet at 9:31 AM on July 16, 2006

When I've opened a bottle of wine that has gone bad or has cork rot, if I've bought it at a wine shop or a liquor store, I've always taken it back to them to exchange for a good bottle of wine.

Wine's too expensive to just pour it out!
posted by ugf at 10:17 AM on July 16, 2006

great story, baphomet.
posted by mwhybark at 10:20 AM on July 16, 2006

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