Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Tower of Faulty Bottles

John Cleese and the rest of the Pythons were filming in the Southwest of England in May 1971. They were scheduled to spend two weeks at the Gleneagles in Torquay, but cut their stay to one night. All do to the "wonderfully rude" hotel manager, the late Donald Sinclair.

Cleese set off to write and star in twelve episodes of the BBC hit " Fawlty Towers" based from that experience. He cast himself the manager Basil Fawlty, who felt that the main nuisances in a hotel were the guests. Sybil Fawlty was Basil's equal and opposite, the competent co-owner who could handle any situation, even those caused by her bumbling spouse.

George Herbert said, "All are presumed good, till they are found in a fault."

Last month, at a gathering of our wine club, we opened a 2006 red blend called Buddy's Bistro from the Chateau O'Brien vineyard in Virginia. Although not "cooked" on a stove top, the wine was clearly damaged by exposure to excessive heat during shipment or storage. What exactly does a "cooked" wine taste like? Some cite "overripe fruit" "prune-y fruit" or even "stewed fruit" as a dead giveaway. Others look for the telltale nutty but stale Sherry-like scent that betrays oxidation.

So many bad things can happen to good wine! Here is a list of other common wine "faults" from a recent issue of the 30 sec Wine Advisor.

• Cork taint: A moldy, musty stench reminiscent of wet cardboard or a damp basement, often with an overtone of chlorine bleach, identifies wine afflicted by a faulty natural cork.

• Oxidized: The familiar walnut aroma of inexpensive Sherry signals a wine exposed to oxygen over time in the bottle or through a faulty cork or stopper.

• Wild yeast: Earthy, "barnyard" aromas ranging from sweaty leather horse saddles to barnyards piled high with manure - often accompanied by a twangy acidic finish - usually denote contamination by wild yeast strains with names like brettanomyces ("brett") and dekkera.

• Volatile acidity: The bacterium acetobacter, afflicting carelessly made wines, can yield a range of "high-toned" aromas ranging from a whiff of furniture polish to a salad-dressing jolt of vinegar.

• Sulfur: A range of sulfur compounds (not to be confused with sulfites used as a natural preservative) can cause a variety of aroma faults in wine from "burnt match" to offensively stinky smells of overcooked cabbage, sauerkraut or swamp gas.

So, Basil, next time you open a bottle of wine, remember, before you sip, stop and smell.