Tainted

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

It has happened to all of us. You are seated in a good restaurant and the waiter has just brought you the wine you ordered. He solemnly shows you the label. You nod, and he proceeds to slit open the lead seal with the tip of his corkscrew. Pealing the seal off the bottle neck, he then screws the screw into the cork which he extracts with a muffled pop. He may bring the cork to his nostrils and sniff it, then with one hand behind his back, he will carefully fill the glass of the person who is to inform him whether the wine tastes fine, or not. And on rare occasions, it does not. But you're never quite sure. So you ask the person sitting opposite whether they would care to try. And they're not sure either, so you both say to the waiter that the wine is lovely, thank you. Yet, over dinner, there's a slight musty taste each time you take a sip of wine. This characteristic faint off-taste - coined cork taint - is caused by the presence of chemical molecules known as chloroanisoles in the wine. Scientists recently characterized an enzyme, that they named chlorophenol O-methyltransferase, from the filamentous fungus Trichoderma longibrachiatum that is responsible for their production.

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