It’s the end of a long work week and it’s finally time for a treat yourself moment. You’ve been eyeing a bottle of wine at your favorite wine shop for weeks, and even though it’s a bit above your price range, you go for it. Back in your apartment, you put on some nice music. you pull out your freshly purchased bottle, cut the foil, remove the cork with a satisfying tug, and pour. The wine glugs out of the bottle into your favorite glass and you lift it to your nose. And that’s when the fantasy begins to falter.
The wine smells a little mustier than you expected. But you’re still optimistic! You take a sip — and that’s when you’re overcome by a feeling of dread. It tastes of stale cardboard and wet dog. And there’s no fruit to be found anywhere. These are the unmistakable signs of a wine afflicted with TCA, or cork taint. Cork taint affects up to 5 percent of all bottles of wine. And while your night may be ruined, all is not lost. While you make yourself a Gin & Tonic, console yourself with the knowledge that for the patron of a wine shop who has unfortunately tasted a corked wine, there is recourse!
Here’s what to do you do if you purchased a corked wine.
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Don’t dump it out
It may be gut instinct, especially with less-expensive bottles, to shrug your shoulders and eat the cost, as you might with produce gone bad, but you can do better than that. It’s important to save the wine, though, because a shop associate will likely want to taste the bottle to test the quality for his or herself.
Don’t drink it, either
Some might argue that they don’t care about whether the wine is in pristine condition and drink it anyway, but trust us — corked wine tastes like cardboard, and you deserve to drink something that tastes better than cardboard. If you’ve already poured a full glass or two when you realize that something is off, pour whatever you can back into the bottle using a funnel. Some wine shops are more understanding than other when it comes to half-full bottles of corked wine, but it makes things a lot more straightforward if the bottle is as close to full as possible.
Find the cork
Along with the wine, the original cork is a key component to returning corked wine. Some argue that corks are an unreliable way to tell whether a wine is corked or not, as cork taint may affect a cork but not a wine and vice versa, but most of the time the importer or distributor (to whom the wine shop will be required to return the wine) will request that the original cork be included with the corked bottle. If you no longer have it, don’t worry — the shop might make an exception.
Got a receipt? Some stores require that defective bottles be returned with a receipt, but many will accept returns without one, since the store knows what they have in stock. It is handy, however, to find the receipt if you purchased the wine more than a week ago; the wine may be discounted lower than you originally paid for it.
Bring the bottle, corked wine and all, back to the shop
Just as you would a shirt or pair of pants that doesn’t fit, bring the corked wine back to the shop at which you purchased it and tell them that you believe the wine is flawed. An employee will likely smell or taste it to double check, but don’t get nervous; they aren’t second-guessing you. It is just part of the job! The return policy for every shop is different, with the period for returns ranging anywhere from 48 to 72 hours for smaller shops to 30 to 60 days for larger ones.
Exchange or get credit
Again, the policy for every shop is different, but most will give the option of either trading the corked bottle for a new bottle of the same wine or trading for a different wine of equal or lesser value. Some large shops may also offer the option to simply return the bottle for cash. It’s important to note that these steps are exclusively for bottles that are corked or otherwise flawed in some way, not for a wine that you don’t care for. Thus, if you decide to exchange the corked bottle for a fresh bottle of the same wine, you shouldn’t worry about the second bottle being flawed; cork taint affects bottle individually. Some hospitality-oriented shops will allow customers to return an open bottle of wine simply because they do not like it, but they are not required to.
What happens to the bottle? Feel bad because you’re at home enjoying a flawless glass of Pinot Noir and the shop now has an open bottle of wine that smells like wet dog? Don’t! Most importers and distributors will issue a fresh bottle or credit to shops for returned, flawed wines.
So the next time you open up a freshly purchased, highly anticipated bottle and it doesn’t taste quite right, err on the side of caution — and maybe have a backup option on hand, just in case.