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Tuesday Tributes: Best of the Blogs
HACKING A WINE—From Reign of Terroir

By Charles Olken

Blogs come in all shapes and forms. They can be short and pithy. They can be long and full of interesting stories. They can challenge the common knowledge. They can often be quite ordinary (hey, no one who writes every day is going to get it right every time). And they can be so damn smart that you have to read them twice to grasp all the information presented in them.

One blog that qualifies every time as “smart” in Reign of Terroir,, written by Ken Payton. Sometimes, Kens’ offerings are “too smart”. I don’t get what he is talking about, or if I do, the topic is so out in left field that it is for wine geeks only. More than any other blog I read, I go back to Ken’s work multiple times because, if nothing else, he has me thinking, learning, questioning my own sense of common knowledge.

Just such a posting is his recent entry entitled, “Hac(king) A Wine” in which he proposes to change the name we attach to a serious of spoilage mechanisms whose deleterious effect on wine is to leave it with a musty, damp cellar smell. Payton wants us to abandon the words “Corky” or “Corked” for the broader meaning attached to HAC.

True to his style, Payton has written a very long and involved essay on the subject. I don’t agree with it all—as I will explain below—but my disagreement is, in fact, simply a different way of looking at the effects of a bad cork. Put as simply as possible, when CGCW encounters a wine in our tastings that carries an unmistakably musty character, we remove that bottle and put a new one back into a later tasting. If the problem is the cork, then typically it is an isolated bottle problem, but if the second bottle is musty, especially if the character is somewhat different from the classic “corkiness”, and it is consistent with the first bottle, then chances are we have not another bad bottle but a contaminated batch of wine. Rather than employ a fancy monicker that relates to a chemical family, we simply describe it as musty. This much can be agreed upon. Without retasting, the source of the problem may be the cork, most often is in our experience, but there is no way to know until a second bottle is opened blind.

This may all be a little bit too technical for a pleasant read on a winter’s day, but if you are interested, then do go to REIGN OF TERROIR and dig in.


No Subject
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:12/7/2010 5:56:05 AM

Haven't been able to sign onto that blog for whatever reason--always an error message.

HACking a wine
by Ken Payton
Posted on:12/7/2010 9:12:29 AM

Charles, thank you very much for the kind words. It was a delightful, if difficult piece to write.

@Mr. Pellechia, my site crashed 3 times yesterday! It seems to be stable now. If you find, the time please make another effort. Thanks.

reign on me
by John
Posted on:12/7/2010 9:29:09 AM

Thanks for the head-sup Charlie. I have ignored Ken's blog to date mostly because some of his comments on other blogs annoyed me. My mistake - I should have given him more credit. This post is really good - well-researched and technically accurate.

One reason I have banished all halgenated sanitizers form the winery is the possibility that more than individual bottles coule ba contaminated. I seem to recall that one high-end winery withdrew an entire vintage of Chardonnay form the market for a taint problem that did not originate with the corks?

We also wish we could eliminate wood pallets. I was at a tasting with my distributor in Houston and it seemed that every cork we pulled was tainted - on the outside end. The wines were fine. The next day we went to their warehouse and found the pallet the cases were stored on. It absolutely REEKED. The cases stored in contact with the wood reeked. The bottles stored point-down had absorbed the taint into the ends of the corks, even through the foils. Ugh.

I disagree that "...fruit muted or altogether absent, with a shortened finish on the palate..." is a HAC problem. I have dosed sound bottles with sub-part-per-trillion levels of TCA to see if taint caused this evvect and never found it. Depending on an individual's detection threshold, the wine is either tainted or it is not. "Loss of fruit" is due to something else. I have long suspected residual releasing compound used in the glassmaking process inside the bottles, as I have seen the same effect in wines closed wiht screw caps or plastic stoppers.

sucky typing, bad editing
by John
Posted on:12/7/2010 9:31:04 AM

my apologies for both in the previous comment

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