That’s the way the wine cork crumbles


It’s time once again to check my email bag for your wine and spirits questions.

Lately I’ve had wine corks fall apart or crumble as I tried to open the bottle. Is that a sign the wine is damaged?

Not necessarily. A cork that breaks apart easily upon encountering the business end of a corkscrew doesn’t necessarily portend disaster for the wine, though it does suggest a potential problem. The only certain way to determine if a wine is damaged by oxygen leaking through the cork seal is to taste it.

Presuming that you have, and the corkscrew you are using has, more often than not successfully removed corks without tearing them apart, a cork that crumbles can be due to excessive dryness or heat during storage, or the cork might have begun life badly fashioned or inserted into the bottle poorly.

So taste the wine before throwing it out, as it may very well have remained entirely uncompromised by the cork lying in bits before you. But maybe have a second or alternative bottle on hand just in case.

What is “reverse osmosis” and why might a winemaker use it?

Reverse osmosis is a specialized type of filtration based on the principle of cross-flow filtration.

Rather than liquid passing through the filter membrane in a perpendicular fashion, the liquid instead runs over, or parallel to, the filter membrane under pressure.

The pressure causes water, some salts and alcohol — which are the smallest molecules in wine, to pass through the membrane filter, while most of the rest of the wine’s elements — like the tannins, and the matter responsible for pigment, flavor and aroma — are retained.

Reverse osmosis is most typically used to adjust a wine’s alcoholic content, reduce a wine’s volatile acidity or concentrate the unfermented freshly crushed grape juice. Although it is considered a controversial wine manipulation by many, Reverse osmosis is widely used across the wine-making world — just another of the tool in a modern winemaker’s toolbox.

What is the proper way to pronounce “pinot noir”?

Pinot noir, the name of a red wine grape and the wines made from that grape, is pronounced “pee-noh n’war,” or perhaps “nwär” captures it better. The name comes from the French words for pine and black — pine because the grape grows in tightly clustered bunches that resemble pine cones.

Pinot noir is also the primary red grape grown in France’s Burgundy wine region. When folks talk of red Burgundy or bourgogne rouge, they’re talking about pinot noir. This is also one of the grapes used in France’s Champagne wine region. Besides France, pinot noir is used to makes some great wines in California, Oregon, New Zealand and Australia.

What’s good this week?

Vitkin, Pinot Noir, 2016 ($30): Grown in the Ella Valley region and aged in French oak barrels for 10 months, this unfiltered, Mediterranean pinot noir is bright, light, fruity (cherry, cranberry, raspberry) and mildly earthy, with some interesting herbal notes. With soft tannins and decent balancing acidity, this is easy to drink on its own, but really hungers for poultry or salmon. L’chaim!

Send your wine and spirits questions to [email protected].

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