• What can you ‘read’ from the cork?
• After how long will a wine’s taste/color/smell start to deteriorate once opened?


 In some restaurants when they open the bottle of wine, they show you the cork. What can you ‘read’ from the cork? What are you supposed to do with it?

You can read quite a lot from the wine cork, particularly if it’s from a bottle of matured red wine. Cork is a porous substance and the microscopic cells create an ideal growing environment for all kinds of bacteria, unless the cork is kept perfectly sterile before being used to seal the bottle. When bacteria have been allowed to form, the wine sometimes develops a mouldy smell, known as ‘corkiness’. When this happens a diner should feel free to send the bottle back and ask for a fresh one.

When you’re offered the cork before the wine is poured, take a careful look at the distance the wine has stained it.  If it’s a particularly porous cork the red stain could go halfway up, or even more. This could indicate a problem in a youngish wine. With an older wine the stain will naturally have advanced further along the cork. Sniff the cork and see whether it has a fresh, inviting smell or a mouldy, unpleasant one. If all seems well with the cork you can nose and taste the wine with confidence.

If you have any doubts about the cork, approach the wine with extra care. The wine waiter will probably have presented the cork to you on a small plate. Replace it when you’ve examined it, and give the waiter a nod to indicate that he may go ahead and pour you some to taste.

 Once a bottle of red or white wine is opened, what does the 'best consumed by' period become? I hear that the wine should be allowed to breathe.

Wines are very individual liquids and each one behaves in its own way. The keeping period after opening depends on a number of factors. If, for example, only a single wine glass was poured from the bottle, the remaining wine will last longer than if several glasses were poured.

The reason for this is that both the surface area of the wine and the air in the bottle are proportionately greater than when there’s just a little wine in it. In an almost full bottle only a small proportion of the wine is in contact with a small volume of air. A full bottle will take longer to oxidise.
Delicate old red wines tend to lose their character much faster than younger ones. Even a few hours can make them taste flat and uninteresting. Most wines tend to start tasting less pleasant after about a day. Refrigerating the opened bottle does help a little, especially if it’s a white wine. Some red wine can be improved by letting it ‘breathe’, but not merely by pulling the cork and letting it stand for an hour or two. In this case the surface area of the wine in the bottle neck is just too small to make a significant difference. If you want the wine to breathe, pour it into a decanter or jug and allow it to stand for an hour or two before serving.
Fortified wines tend to last quite a long time, but make sure they are well sealed and don’t expect them to last forever. A month or so should be about the limit. Generally, a wine, once opened, is best drunk as soon as possible. Why wait longer?


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