Just the Facts: Corked Wine

Just the Facts: Corked Wine

Here are the facts you need to know about corked wine:

  • What is corked wine? Corked wine is wine that has been infected by a chemical called "trichloroanisole."  Don't worry about remembering that; wine people just use the short-form "TCA."
  • Why do we call the wine “corked”?  Because the TCA comes from the cork. Cork is made from the bark of cork trees (mostly in Portugal), and sometimes those trees have TCA on them.
  • How do I know if a wine is corked? Sometimes a “corked” wine is badly infected with TCA and it tastes musty and smells like wet newspaper, cardboard or sawdust.
  • But sometimes, when a corked wine is just a little infected, it can be hard to tell.  Maybe the wine just seems a little off or the fruit just isn't there.  If you're not sure, let the wine sit out for an hour or two. A corked wine will always show its corkiness if you give it enough air.
  • What should I do if my wine is corked? Well, if you bought it from us, bring it back: we’ll always give you credit. If you’re at a restaurant, ask the sommelier or wine steward for their opinion.  No somm worth their salt will be insulted by the question or try to pull a fast one on you.
  • Can’t I do anything to save it?  What about saran wrap? You should just pour it down the drain. We’ve experimented with saran wrap and it definitely reduces the TCA aromas. But even when there’s no detectable mustiness left, the wine is always lacking in flavor. Best just to open another bottle.
  • How bad is this problem?  That’s a controversial question. The cork industry says about 1% of wines are corked.  The Wine Spectator did a blind tasting experiment that suggested it’s more like 7%.  Based on my own experience, I'm guessing it’s somewhere between the two.
  • Will we ever fix this? There is some hope for the future.  The cork industry has reduced its use of chemicals like chlorine, which is thought to contribute to the problem.  Top wineries are just starting to introduce a technique that determines if a cork contains TCA without making it unusable for bottling.  Let's hope that these trends continue and that cork taint will one day be remembered as a 20th century problem!
Jeff Patten