Tricks to make a bad wine better

PHOTO: AFP

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.

Read also: The differences between cheap and expensive wines

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.

Wine myths to stop believing

  • Fact: Surprise! Wines can actually expire.

    Not all wines can age gracefully, and many soon turn stale after a year or two. Only about one per cent of all wines improve with long-term cellaring of five to 10 years.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Wine prices are not only influenced by quality. Image - along with market conditions, demand and even currency fluctuations - influence the price.

    Less familiar wines from more unfashionable regions and producers can also offer surprisingly good, value-for-money wines.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Don't judge a wine by its bottle.

    A heavier bottle certainly indicates that the winery has made a substantial investment in the packaging, but that doesn't mean that the wine itself is exceptional.

    And just remember: the cost of shipping heavier packing also costs more, which is factored into its final retail price.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: You don't have to confine your wine to only Western cuisine - you can drink it with Asian food too if you choose something suitable.

    Chinese food pairs perfectly with wines that have high acidity, lower alcohol and relatively understated flavours and aromas. The next time you dig into your stir-fry, try Riesling if you prefer white wine or Pinot Noir if you like red.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Cork has been preferred choice as it allows small amounts of oxygen into the wine to help aid its evolution - an important aspect for reds.

    But this doesn't mean that wines can't mature well with screw-on caps.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Beer, wine, and liquors all confer the same health benefits.

    Research has revealed that it's not antioxidants that protect against heart disease, but alcohol, which raises levels of HDL - also known as good cholesterol. This helps to reduce plaque formation and clots in the arteries to lower the risk of heart diseases.

    But of course, this isn't a free pass to load up on booze. Drink in moderation!

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: While this is commonly believed, the reality is that not all cheeses pair well with wine. Heavy textured and strong-tasting cheeses overpower the tongue's ability to fully enjoy the richness and balance of a good wine.

    Pair your tipple with a softer, milder cheese like Brie.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Uncorking a bottle does not sufficiently aerate wine as the narrow bottleneck restricts airflow.

    Pouring the wine through a decanter into your glass is a more effective way to let it breathe.

    You can also gently jiggle the bottle after opening it to fully aerate your wine and release its flavour and aroma.

    Photo: Pixabay

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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