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Bruno Michel "Blanche" Brut Champagne $34.99One of our best non-vintage Champagnes, this organically grown blend of half each Chardonnay and Meunier comes entirely from Bruno Michel's estate. It has been aged for six years on the lees and shows wonderful natural toasty quality as well as incredible vibrance! This was the big hit of our most recent staff Champagne tasting and we think you will love it too.

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We host regular weekly and Saturday wine tastings in each K&L location.

For the complete calendar, including lineups and additional details related to our events, visit our K&L Local Events on KLWines.com or follow us on Facebook.  

 

Free Spirits Tastings at K&L! Now that we have our license for spirits tastings in Redwood City and San Francisco, we’re excited to host regular free spirits tastings in those locations.  Check the Spirits Journal for an updated tasting schedule.

All tastings will feature different products from the Spirits Department and take place on Wednesdays in Redwood City and San Francisco. Visit our events page on Facebook or the K&L Spirits Journal for more information.

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Wednesday
Jul302008

Wine Flaws: Why Does My Wine Have Soap Bubbles And Taste Like Soap?

soapy wineDoes your wine look and taste soapy? It may be something more than a soapy decanter...

Anyone here at K&L would advise you to decant almost any red wine before enjoying it in your glass. Exposing the wine to oxygen over a period of time is usually the key to unlocking more of the flavors lurking inside of it. After using a decanter, the best thing to do is to rinse it out with hot water and let it dry upside down on a decanter stand. The less contact it has with any type of rag, towel, or brush, the better. It is a given that soap should rarely, if ever, be involved in the washing of decanters, or glassware in general for that matter. The effect of even a small amount of chemical residue upon a wine is extremely damaging to the wine's flavors and texture. Here at K&L we always wash our glassware and our decanters in hot water; if there is any dishwasher detergent involved, it is a microscopic amount. However, Monday produced a scenario here in Redwood City that baffled many of us, and led to a variety of different theories about what sort of agent was responsible for the damage. It began with the weekly tradition of picking out a bottle to taste together as a staff on Monday (we have decided that tasting three times a week is still not enough to further our development as wine experts). We routinely chip in on a bottle and in this case the selection was a 1999 Rioja that we were all excited to test drive. I took it upon myself to open and decant the wine so that it would be ready for us whenever we had a free moment to step off the sales floor. About 15 minutes after doing so, Joe Manekin found me in the back room by the label machine and asked me, “David, did you check the decanter to see if it had soap in it before you poured the wine?” “Why would I do that?” I responded, knowing full well that nobody here would use soap to wash it in the first place. “Go back and taste the wine,” he said. The first sip was all sandlewood and Dial soap, with heavy chemical flavors lingering on the finish. The fact that no one had tried it before we poured it eliminated the possibility of a before and after comparison, but to me it tasted like there may have been some soap in the decanter; however, it would have had to have been a significant amount. When Assistant Manager Doug Davidson came into taste, we swirled the wine around in the glass and immediately the wine bubbled up like water and dishwasher detergent. It seemed fishy that a wine would both behave and taste like soap, but what I immediately wanted to know was whether there existed a flaw in wine that could also produce these types of characteristics. Joe and I immediately went to the computer to do some Googling. We found nothing. Jeff Garneau tasted next and was not convinced of the presence of soap. He certainly believed that the wine was flawed, but could not say how or why. He called Anne Pickett, our resident Master-of-Wine- in-the-making, and she was also unsure about the presence of soapy flavors and what else could possibly cause them. Wine Encyclopedia Jeff Vierra tried it the next day, and while he agreed that it was terrible, he too was hesitant to blame it all upon soap film in a decanter. I am still but a novice here and know nothing about wine compared to these fine individuals, so my opinion was rather meaningless. I could vouch for the fact that it tasted like soap, and that it looked like it had soap bubbles in it, but not much else. There had to be someone with some idea about what could do such a cruel thing to such a nice wine. It was time to consult “The Master.” “That wine is undergoing maderization, or the beginning stages of it, which means at some point in time, the wine has been exposed to heat while in the bottle; that would help to explain the bubbles,” Jim Barr said within five seconds of tasting it. “It also may be in the finishing stages of malolactic fermentation; that could explain the soap” he continued. Jim Barr has been making his own wine for years, and has worked at K&L for almost as long as I have been alive, so his knowledge concerning the making of wine is unparalleled here, but he is a bit nutty sometimes and I wasn’t sure if I could fully believe him. Bryan Brick, our Spanish wine buyer, sampled the wine after Barr and he concurred with the diagnosis: heat stroke. But what about the soapy flavors? Could the wine have been both maderized (stemming from the word Madera, occurring from exposure to heat, and meaning that the wine is characterized by a more brown color and more Port-like flavors) and also affected by soap film in the decanter? My fellow colleague Chiara Shannon wasn’t convinced that it tasted like soap. In her opinion it had the filmy texture of soap, but more the stale nutty flavors of peanut skin as well as some salty notes. I could not, for the life of me, find anything online about a flaw in wine that produced soap, but that was because I hadn’t been using the proper descriptors. When I had previously searched about soap flavors in wine, all of the results that dealt with the subject blamed bad decanting; stating exactly the same instructions that I listed at the beginning of this article. Basically if you pour your wine in a decanter and it tastes like soap, then you didn’t wash your decanter properly. It was an easy target, but it didn’t help drinkers like myself get to the bottom of the mystery. There existed nothing on the internet that I could find to help settle the problem, until I used Jim and Chiara’s descriptors to search: malolactic fermentation soap salt flavors. I was taken to a website dealing with chemistry patents in the wine industry and found a key sentence that proved what Jim Barr had been saying was not mere jibberish. After trying to make sense of what the science-speak was telling me I found a paragraph that dealt with malolactic fermentation and the stabilization of wine. Within it was a line stating that sometimes the processes of reducing acid in wine can lead to a “soap like or salty character” in the wine. There was a possible explanation. Basically as Jim Barr went on the summarize, “During malolactic fermentation, the yeast goes in and eats the malic acid and then farts out the lactic acid, which lowers the tingling and bitter characteristics of acidity in the wine.” If the wine is drunk while still finishing this type of process, the result could possibly be a soapy character in the wine. For those who are unaware of this process, it is the culprit behind what turns bright, crisp chardonnay's malic acid (like an apple) into smooth, creamy chardonnay's lactic acid (like milk). So, in closing, if you are ever in the situation where a dinner guest complains that the wine tastes of soap and blames your decanter as the culprit, before you freak out and start washing your glassware only with boiled Evian, remember that there may be another explanation. Even if the wine looks like soapy water, and tastes like it too, it may be the result of extended time in the sun and some unfinished malo. —David Driscoll

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