Have you ever stuck a spoon in an unfinished bottle of Champagne, stuffed Saran wrap into a decanter of corked wine or spun a Cabernet in a blender? These are just a few of the tricks oenophiles have been known to employ to save a wine from being poured down the drain.
Wine collectors regularly bandy about the Saran wrap technique as a way to remove 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), or cork taint, from a wine. TCA, a chemical compound occasionally found in corks (hence the term "corked"), can impart a dull or even musty character that is perfectly harmless but unpleasant to consume. Polyethylene, found in plastic wrap, absorbs it.
"The non-polar TCA molecule has a high affinity for the polyethylene molecule," Rich Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Long Island, N.Y., wrote in an email, explaining how the trick removes the taint.
New York attorney Jay Hack once used the technique at a Manhattan steakhouse, after discovering that the pricey premier cru red Burgundy he'd brought to dinner was corked. When Mr. Hack asked for some plastic wrap, the waiter took "about a square foot right out of the restaurant kitchen," he recalled. "We crumpled it up and inserted it in the decanter for a few seconds."
The result was a much better wine, with diminished cork taint - although a few of Mr. Hack's friends thought the wine had been stripped of some flavour as well.
That's because polyethylene not only absorbs TCA but other wine components as well, especially aromatics, said Mr. Olsen-Harbich.
Alas, the method doesn't always work; it depends on the type of polyethylene in the plastic wrap, said Mel Knox, of San Francisco-based Knox Barrels. Other factors that can determine the trick's success or failure include the ratio of polyethylene to TCA, and the wine's temperature and alcohol level.
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