Monthly Archives: May 2015


Cork taint has been the bane of my life recently, but strangely enough not from the source that you might expect. Corked wine is one of the most annoying of wine faults – an invisible enemy that can strike at any time. There is nothing worse than putting your nose into a glass of wine and getting that unmistakeable smell of musty cardboard, wet dog and something that reminds me of a particular stairwell at school. That is the smell of TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole to any science geeks out there) and it basically means the wine is good for nothing other than pouring down the drain. Heartbreaking at any time, and particularly if found in a bottle you have been saving for a special occasion.

But recently TCA has been plaguing me from a completely different source….vegetables. Yes, really.

It all started with a regular pot of mince that my husband had cooked for dinner. Nothing too unusual there, and he does make a pretty mean spag bol. That is until we tasted it….hmmm a little musty, not quite up to scratch. Another taste, definitely something odd going on here. Then it hit us – the mince was corked. Not even funky-around-the-edges kind of corked, but full on mouldy-cardboard corked. Completely inedible and fit only for the compost. But before we consigned it to our food waste bin we decided to do a bit of investigating. And it turned out that the culprit that had managed to taint the entire pot was one measly clove of garlic.

The next occasion happened a couple of weeks later only this time the culprit wasn’t garlic, but instead was a new potato. The other ones from the same bag were fine, but this one in particular was definitely corked. Next up was an evening train journey with some friends where we shared some wine and snacks. This time it was the baby carrots that were at fault. So much for the healthy option to go with our dip…

Then most recently I found myself in a restaurant with a group of friends and was telling this exact story to them. When I said that one of the beetroots in my beetroot salad was corked I think at first they thought I was saying it for effect. That is until I passed the offending piece around and saw the looks of revulsion on each of their faces. TCA at work again. At this point I did consider telling the waiter, but I think sending a bottle of wine back for being corked is one thing. Sending some vegetables back for the same reason…quite another thing.

So where, I hear you ask, does this come from? What is the root cause of the TCA epidemic and is it really on the increase? Well, that leads me into the realms of speculation as I am no food scientist and nor do I have any hard data on the subject.

TCA is formed by fungi in the presence of moisture and chlorinated phenols. In terms of wine, cork taint occurs when naturally occurring fungi in cork bark comes into contact with chlorine – which in the past has been used to clean corks (this doesn’t happen now, hence the decrease in incidence of cork taint versus some years ago). It can also pass into wine via barrels or wooden pallets where TCA can be formed.

In terms of vegetables, it is striking that all of the ones I have had problems with are root vegetables, and so may have picked up fungal spores from the soil which could produce the TCA. As for the chlorine, a quick internet search reveals that baby carrots in particular are washed in chlorinated water as a means to keep them fresh when packaged. Similarly, chlorine can be used in the bleaching process in garlic production. Perhaps then corked vegetables are simply a bad side effect of producing the fresh, pre-washed vegetables people seem to desire these days…

As for whether corked vegetables are on the increase, from my experience it is definitely something that I am noticing more and more. And it is not just vegetables. I have also had the odd corked apple and glass of orange juice – and I’m even finding particular streets to be corked lately. But of course this doesn’t necessarily indicate a causal connection. It is entirely possible that since embarking on the MW course I am more aware of cork taint and have developed a lower threshold for picking up on TCA – and so therefore am just more receptive to it. More data would be needed from a lot more people (nevermind being collected a bit more scientifically) in order to establish any sort of trend.

So, have you noticed musty vegetables lately or picked up on cork taint in unexpected places? I would love to hear if anyone else has had similar problems.

And if so, what is to be done about it? Increased use of screwcaps and altering the method of making corks has certainly helped to decrease cork taint in wine, but as for vegetables…well, let’s just say I am very careful now to gingerly smell every clove of garlic before I cook with it. Prevention may just be more feasible than cure for now.


Prosecco Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Prosecco wars, Episode IV: A New Hope

Not so long ago, in a wine trade very,
very close….

It is a period of crisis.
Italian negociants, striking
from a hidden base, have won
their first victory against
the unsuspecting public.

Through a well-planned press campaign,
they have convinced
the public of an impending shortage
of their ultimate weapon, Prosecco,
a boring sparkling wine
with enough power to
destroy the entire Aperol Spritz revival.

Pursued by Prosecco’s
sinister agents, other sparkling
wines race to the rescue, they are
custodians of the bubbles that can save
empty flutes and restore
balance in the Wine Aisles….

This is what the recent press about a forthcoming Prosecco shortage reads like to me. The articles may as well have been written by Emperor Palpatine himself. But hang on a second, is this much ado about nothing? Probably. It is undeniable that Prosecco has become the sparkling wine of choice not just here in the UK but in other countries with supposed ‘higher’ understanding of wine. Consumers got a taste for Italian bubbles during the crisis and never quite came back to things yeastier and better. Prosecco is massively trendy and consumers are made to believe that very soon, they won’t be able to have it. And how does one react when one can’t have something that one really wants and that one must be seen as having? One will do anything to get it, even if it means paying a higher price. Great strategy so far, induce panic buying and then put your prices up. I’m just not convinced that Prosecco is worth paying that much more for.

So why is Prosecco so popular? I am guessing it is for the same reasons that comparably bland wines such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc are popular: they are non-offensive, relatively neutral, simple and have a little residual sugar – just enough to make them seem dry without actually being dry. Prosecco could be considered the food equivalent of white bread. A lot of people like white bread. It has little nutritional value, serving more as a ‘flavour delivery system’ without having much flavour of its own, but I guess not everyone is willing to spend money on a rye sourdough. But if you do spend almost the same amount of money, perhaps a few pennies more, you can get a brown loaf which packs in more flavour and wholesomeness.  In a similar vein, there are sparkling wines that will not cost you much more than Prosecco but deliver great value for money. Cava is the obvious sparkler to reach for when the Prosecco shelves dry up but there are others, too. If you are looking for something non-autolytic to splash into your Aperol Spritz, consider Sekt. Most Sekt is made by the same method as Prosecco and a lot of it is actually made using imported Italian wine. We don’t see much Sekt in the UK but there are masses of it produced in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. If you are looking for something more interesting (and are not scared of autolysis), there is the aforementioned Cava (which, similarly to Prosecco, has a softer acidity than Champagne) but French Cremant is also great value and there are some really good value and interesting examples from regions like Jura and Alsace.

So what I am trying to say is: nobody panic. If/when Prosecco does dry up, there are other sparkling wines that can fill the void. Often, they are actually more interesting and won’t cost you much more….

Evil Monkey

The Gift of Good Wine

I always felt that I should have a job where I was giving something back to society.  I had grand plans as a child of building orphanages, poaching poachers and protecting the weak.  By hook or by crook my life took a slightly different turn, and as much as I would like to spin doctor it, to date, there hasn’t been a huge amount in my career that has ‘given anything to the community’.

anti poaching

This has finally changed!  I have just started a new job with a wonderful (free) wine app called wotwine?  Now, I appreciate this isn’t curing Ebola or helping refugees in Syria but in my own little, wine soaked way, I genuinely believe I am working for a company that can help people buy decent wine.

In short we are a team of professional wino’s (Masters of Wine and MW students, sommeliers, winemakers, wine marketeers and the odd self confessed wine ignoramus) who have tasted 80% of the wines in the UK supermarket shelves (don’t worry we are aiming for 100% coverage).  We rate them both on value to help you find the genuine deals rather than cynical promotions, as well as on quality to give you security that your hard earned tenner is going to be well spent rather than squandered on a disappointing bottle of forgettable mediocrity.

I have been in wine all my working life and have a pretty sound knowledge of grape varieties, regions and vintages and so the supermarket shelves should be a walk in the park for me in terms of identifying the gems.  Not so.  So much is down to producer that the only way to genuinely know if a wine is good is to taste it.  This is where we come in.  We have tasted it, judged it and are at your iphone/android finger tips in the supermarkets to give you guidance.

Scan the wine’s bar code and get our unbiased views on it to make sure it is worth those hard earned pounds (all the wines are tasted and assessed blind, then debated by the panel).  Or select the supermarket you are in and then the ‘great value’ icon and it will list all the wines there that we think really over deliver.  Equally use the website from the comfort of your own home via the search icon and click through to order for home delivery. Simples.

wotwine logo 3

This may seem like a shameless punt for the business but in truth, nothing irritates me more than spending money on a bottle of wine and getting home only to find it is gut rot not even worthy of cooking with.  This is a complete waste of money, time and emotional investment.  Wotwine? Is there to help guide you through the supermarket minefield to the genuinely exciting, well made, good value gems that they do all have, hidden away on the shelves.

So society, my gift to you, a bottle of wine that will put a smile back on your face.


– Alex