How to Tell if Wine is Corked & 6 Wine Faults

When a bottle of wine is affected by cork taint, it will give off a distinct musty odor and have a noticeably muted flavor. This can be disappointing for any wine enthusiast, especially if the bottle was expensive or part of a special occasion.

Fortunately, there are several ways to tell if your wine has been corked before even taking a sip. Here are some tips to help you identify a corked bottle and avoid the disappointment of a spoiled wine.

What is Cork Taint?

Cork taint, also known as “corked” or “corkiness”, is caused by a compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) that can be found in natural corks. This compound is created when chlorine-based fungicides used in cork production come into contact with mold or other bacteria.

Cork taint can affect any type of wine, but it is most commonly found in wines sealed with natural corks. Synthetic corks and screw caps do not have the same risk of producing TCA, but they also have different oxygen transfer rates that may affect the aging process of wine.

What Does a Corked Wine Smell Like?

A corked wine can be recognized by its distinct smell, reminiscent of a damp basement or wet dog, caused by the TCA compound replacing the natural fragrances. The intensity of this musty aroma may vary, but even a faint odor indicates the wine is corked and may not taste as expected.

What Does a Corked Wine Taste Like?

The taste of corked wine is notably compromised by a musty, moldy, or damp cardboard-like flavor that characterizes cork taint. This distinct flavor profile is primarily due to the presence of the TCA compound, which overwhelms the natural, vibrant fruitiness and complexity that wine enthusiasts cherish. Instead of tasting the intended rich bouquet of flavors, drinkers are often met with a muted or flattened taste experience that lacks the rich depth or the nuanced layers expected in quality wine.

Is Corked Wine Safe to Drink?

Corked wine is not hazardous to health. The compound responsible for cork taint, TCA, does not produce toxic effects when ingested. Drinking corked wine, though not pleasant due to compromised flavor and aroma, won’t cause harm. Note that the diminished quality means it won’t deliver expected sensory pleasures or nuances.

Can You Tell if a Wine is Corked by Sniffing the Cork?

Traditionally, presenting the cork to the person who ordered the wine is a courtesy, allowing inspection and sniffing. This practice started when counterfeit wines were common, and sniffing the cork verified authenticity.

Sniffing the cork can hint at the wine’s state, especially for moldy or musty odors indicating cork taint. However, these odors’ absence doesn’t guarantee the wine is untainted. Cork taint is hard to detect and may not show in the cork smell.

While a moldy or musty cork suggests cork taint, a clean-smelling one doesn’t ensure the wine is fault-free. TCA, the compound causing cork taint, can be in the wine without odor on the cork.

Assessing the wine directly is more effective than relying on the cork’s aroma alone. Testing a small amount’s aroma and flavor is a more reliable method.

What is Cork Taint

Bits of cork floating in my wine – Is it corked?

Finding bits of cork floating in your wine is not an indicator of cork taint or a “corked” wine. These pieces usually break off when the cork is being removed, especially if it’s old or the corkscrew is mishandled. Remember, actual cork taint is identified by the musty, moldy aromas and flavors caused by TCA, rather than the physical presence of cork pieces in the liquid.

While it may not be aesthetically pleasing, the presence of cork fragments does not affect the wine’s quality, taste, or safety. To remove these particles, you can decant the wine or simply strain them out.

Are All Corks Made from the Cork Oak Tree?

Most traditional corks are produced from the bark of the Cork Oak Tree (Quercus suber), native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. This material is favored for its flexibility, compressibility, and watertight qualities, making it ideal for sealing wine bottles. The harvesting of cork bark is a sustainable practice; the trees are not cut down. Instead, the bark is stripped away, and it regenerates over time, typically over a nine-year cycle before the next harvest.

In addition to natural cork, alternatives are used in the wine industry today.

Synthetic corks mimic natural cork’s appearance and function while eliminating cork taint risk.

Another option is the screw cap, made from metal, providing a tight seal that’s easy to open and effective at preserving wine flavor and freshness.

Some winemakers use glass stoppers, offering an airtight seal and aesthetic appeal, though they are more expensive.

How About Screwcaps?

Originating in the late 20th century, Screwcaps have become increasingly popular as an alternative to traditional cork closures in the wine industry, especially favored for its consistency and its ability to preserve the wine’s quality over time. Screwcaps eliminates the risk of cork taint by providing an airtight seal that prevents the ingress of oxygen and any potential contaminants.

Screwcaps are particularly beneficial for preserving the crisp, fresh flavors of white wines and younger reds that are not intended for long-term aging.

Other Common Wine Faults and How to Identify Them

Beyond cork taint, several conditions can affect a wine’s integrity and enjoyment. Here, we explore other common wine faults and how to identify them:

Oxidized Wine

When a wine has had too much exposure to oxygen, we call it ‘oxidized’. Oxidation occurs when wine is overexposed to air, leading to a loss of brightness in both color and flavor. White wines may take on a deeper, golden hue, while reds can appear brownish. The vibrant fruit flavors become muted, often replaced by nutty, bruised fruit, or caramel notes.

Reductive Wine

Reductive wines are stored without exposure to oxygen, allowing sulfur compounds to accumulate. This can lead to unpleasant odors like struck matches, garlic, rotten eggs, or burnt rubber. Aerating the wine can help reduce these aromas, which is often necessary for wines in screw cap bottles rather than those sealed with natural corks. If you encounter a reductive bottle, consider decanting it. Allowing the fumes to dissipate may help the wine improve its flavor profile.

Fermenting Wine

A wine that re-ferments after bottling often shows signs of carbonation or fizziness that wasn’t intended by the winemaker. This fault is usually due to yeast consuming residual sugar in the bottle, which can lead to slight popping sounds upon opening or a spritzy texture when tasted.

Heat Damaged (or, ‘Maderized’) Wine

Exposure to high temperatures can ‘cook’ wine, leading to what is termed as ‘maderized’ wine. Such wines may present flavors resembling stewed fruit and have a flat aroma profile. The color may also shift, with whites becoming deeper and reds turning a brown hue.

Microbial Infected Wine

Microbial infections from bacteria or wild yeast strains can impart unusual flavors and odors, such as sourness, vinegar, or barnyard smells. These faults significantly detract from the wine’s intended character and are often the result of poor hygiene during winemaking.

Volatile Acidity

Volatile acidity (VA) is characterized by an excessive presence of acetic acid (vinegar) and ethyl acetate (nail polish remover) in wine. While a small amount of VA can add complexity to wine, higher levels are considered a flaw and make the wine smell and taste sharp or vinegary.

‘Green’ Aromas

‘Green’ aromas describe the presence of underripe or vegetal characteristics in wine, such as bell pepper, grass, or raw green bean. This can indicate that the grapes were not fully ripe when harvested, affecting the wine’s overall appeal and balance.


Tartrates, or ‘wine crystals’, are harmless crystalline deposits that can form in the bottle, especially in wines stored at low temperatures. They are the potassium salt of tartaric acid, a natural component of grape juice, and do not affect the quality or safety of the wine.


‘Brett’ refers to Brettanomyces, a yeast that can impart barnyard, band-aid, or animalistic aromas to wine. In small amounts, some consider it a complex feature, but higher concentrations are generally regarded as a fault, masking the wine’s fruit character.

How to Evaluate Wine Quality

Evaluating the quality of wine involves a sensory examination that taps into sight, smell, and taste.

  1. Begin by observing the wine’s color and clarity in a well-lit room. Quality wines should have a brilliant hue that corresponds with their age and varietal characteristics.
  2. Swirl the wine to release its aromas, taking note of its complexity, intensity, and whether it matches expectations for its type and age. Upon tasting, assess the balance between acidity, sweetness, tannins, and alcohol.
  3. The finish should leave a lasting impression, either confirming the initial aromatic profile or offering new dimensions. High-quality wines present a harmony of these elements, exhibiting depth and a lingering, pleasant aftertaste.

Preventive Measures and Storage Tips

Proper storage and sourcing of wine are key components in ensuring the quality and longevity of your wine.

Controlling Temperature and Humidity:

The ideal storage temperature for wine is between 50°F (10°C) and 55°F (13°C), with a humidity level of around 70%. Extreme temperatures and fluctuations can lead to the cork drying out or expanding, potentially introducing air into the bottle and causing oxidation. Wine cellars or specialized wine refrigerators are designed to maintain these conditions consistently.

Storing Bottles Horizontally:

Storing wine on its side helps keep the cork moist, which is vital for its health and integrity. A moist cork ensures a better seal and prevents air from seeping into the bottle. For wines with alternative closures, like screw caps or synthetic corks, horizontal storage is still efficient for space management but not crucial for closure health.

how to check corked wine

Can You Fix Corked Wine?

Unfortunately, there is no way to fix corked wine. Once a wine has been tainted by TCA, it remains spoiled and cannot be restored to its original state.

If you’re pondering questions like, “Do wine coolers expire?” or “How can I store wine without a wine fridge?“, you’re already on the right path to preserving the integrity and flavor of your wine collection. Proper storage is key to preventing issues like cork taint and maintaining the wine’s quality over time.

What should you do if your wine is corked?

If you suspect that your wine is corked, especially when dining at a restaurant, don’t hesitate to bring it to the attention of your server. Remember, detecting corked wine is part of enjoying wine responsibly, and you should never feel embarrassed for pointing it out. Your dining experience and satisfaction are paramount, and restaurants are typically eager to ensure that every aspect of your meal, including the wine, meets your expectations.

In the event you discover a corked bottle after purchasing it from a wine shop, most reputable establishments will readily accept returns. When returning a corked bottle, aim to keep the wine and its original cork to present as evidence of the flaw. Retailers appreciate this and are generally more than willing to replace the bottle or offer a refund as part of their commitment to customer satisfaction and maintaining trust in their selections.


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Williams T. Edwards
Williams T. Edwards, the visionary founder of Williams Minneapolis, has not only shaped a vibrant and dynamic venue but has also brought his expertise in wine coolers to the forefront of the local scene. This unique establishment, with its blend of history and modernity, invites patrons to experience its welcoming ambiance, diverse beverage selection, and entertainment options. Whether you're a local looking for a reliable favorite or a visitor seeking a memorable night out, Williams Minneapolis is a must-visit destination in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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