Hij gromt als het mis is
Katten kunnen ‘kurk’ in een wijn ruiken. Dat bewijst de ongewone kater Mr. Wu, een stevigerd van 8,5 kilo en thuis bij Bob Campbell, Australisch Master of Wine. Het dier is niet voor niks gespitst op TCA. Want dat is een anagram voor CAT. Hij gromt als ie de fout bespeurt. Welke rol Mr. Who nu al 12 jaar speelt in Bobs leven, is nu geboekstaafd. Lees en verbaas je:
"Mr. Wu came into our lives about 12 years ago. We’d made the mistake of wandering into a pet shop. Our daughter, Lucy, fell in love with him. I must admit he looked pretty cute. He’s a cross between a Rag Doll and a Persian. We’ve had plenty of cats, all moggies and all free. I’d certainly never had to pay $600 for one.
We rapidly discovered that Mr Wu (named after the George Formby song Chinese Laundry Blues – 'Now Mr. Wu was a laundry man in a shop with an old green door...') was not really a cat. I suppose he looks sort of like a cat but he certainly doesn’t act like one. He is not remotely interested in eating fish or meat of any sort. He loves papaya. He doesn’t chase birds, mice or vermin.
He can, with difficulty, jump on the bed but is incapable of jumping onto a table or kitchen bench (which is not a bad thing). His favourite position is lying on his back with legs in the air looking as though he has just fallen from the ceiling. When he eats his cat biscuits he lies on the floor and rests his chin on his bowl. We don’t refer to Mr Wu as a cat, we call him a 'woozle'. A woozle is a fictional weasel-like character mentioned in Winnie the Pooh stories.
Mr Wu has an embarrassing body mass index. A high intake of cat biscuits and low output of energy means he weighs in at 8.5 Kg. I call him 'a larger gentleman', the vet calls him 'obese'. We put him onto weight-watchers biscuits but it made no difference because he ate twice as many. The closest he gets to exercise is sitting in a dolls pram while the grand-children wheel him around the house.
Mr Wu craves company. I work at home so he spends much of his time blobbing out in my office. At first he was happy to sleep on the rug then around ten years ago he graduated to my desk. The desk is large enough to accommodate a keyboard, a couple of screens, up to 100 bottles of wine... and Mr Wu’s large reclining form.
Every morning between 9:00am and 11:00am I taste around 30 bottles of wine. Mr Wu lies with his head close to my right hand which he nuzzles when he wants me to tickle him behind the ears. The very first time he slept on my desk I noticed how he would make a strange noise when I uncorked some bottles. It was something between a short meow and grunt. I’d never heard him do it before.
Perhaps the noise of the cork coming out of the bottle unsettled him? And yet when I soundlessly uncorked several bottles he’d grunt with some and not others. As the weeks ticked by the grunting continued but I couldn’t find a pattern except that he’d never grunted when I’d opened a bottle sealed with a screwcap. Wineries had only just started to switch from cork to screwcaps – only about 10% of bottles sported the new closure. I assumed that it was something to do with the noise I made when I uncorked some bottles and left it at that.
The penny finally dropped when a winery sent me three cases of the same Chardonnay for evaluation. They had complained to their cork supplier about an unusually high level of cork taint in the closures used on their Chardonnay. They needed an independent person to measure the level of cork taint in their wine. Nearly half the bottles were well off the pace. Most showed the telltale wet cardboard character that pointed to cork taint while a few had suppressed aromatics that I guessed might be due to lower levels of the contaminant 246 trichloranisole (tca), the chemical that causes most cork taint.
The interesting thing is that while I was doing the tasting Mr Wu was grunting like a sow in heat. I’d picked out 16 bottles that appeared to be corked. Mr Wu grunted as I uncorked every one of those bottles plus another six bottles. On a hunch I had every one of the 22 bottles analysed for the presence of tca. Every bottle tested positive. The six bottles that I thought were OK but hadn’t passed the grunt test had low levels of tca that were 'unlikely to be picked up through sensory evaluation' according to the chemist who’d tested them. Mr Wu was a feline gas cromatograph (the machine used to detect tca).
I considered using Mr Wu’s skill for commercial gain but it didn’t seem right. He only grunted while sleeping on my desk while his clever nostrils inches from the bottle as I uncorked it. I put him to the test with corked wine in other situations but he just seemed slightly puzzled with the fuss and certainly didn’t grunt. He would have made a great party trick if he were able to pick out corked wine in a crowded room.
Thanks to Mr Wu’s skill I have earned a valuable reputation as someone who can detect very low levels of tca. I am careful to explain that I can only detect tca when I use my own glasses, in my own tasting room between 9:00 and 11:00am each morning. I don’t reveal that I also need a large ginger woozle nearby.
Mr Wu has even detected cork taint in a few bottles that were sealed with a screwcap. In each case my suggestion that the winemaker should check the winery for a source of tca has been met with scorn. Those that have followed my suggestion have found TCA in their wine barrels or, in one case, in the winery's timber framing.
Age doesn’t seem to have dulled Mr Wu’s perception although tainted bottles are now few and far between thanks to a takeover by screwcaps. He still sleeps on my desk and gives a tiny wheezy grunt whenever a wine has tca which, as my daughter pointed out, is an anagram for 'cat'."
(*Bron: "Wine Cats," by Susan Elliott and Craig McGill, is published by Giant Dog Australia. It is available at www.winecats.com and participating bookstores and wineries.)