Have you ever heard of cork taint? It’s this thing that can ruin the taste of a good wine. So, it’s when the cork has these compounds, like 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), which make the wine smell and taste awful.
Oh, and here’s a fun fact: different types of corks have different chances of getting tainted. Natural corks, made from the bark of cork oak trees, are more likely to have TCA contamination compared to synthetic corks or screw caps. But hey, each type of cork closure has its pros and cons, and they can affect how the wine ages and tastes. But let’s not get sidetracked, we’re here to learn about how to tell if wine is corked. So, let’s dive in!
What is Cork Taint?
Cork taint is primarily caused by a compound known as 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). This compound forms when naturally occurring fungi or molds come into contact with certain chlorinated compounds that are present in bleaches and pesticides. While harmless to humans, TCA can have a significantly detrimental impact on wine.
When TCA is present, it permeates the cork and, subsequently, the wine. It mutes its aroma and flavor. At higher concentrations, TCA can make a wine taste dull or flat, stripping it of its fruit flavors and leaving a marked insipid aftertaste.
We want to note that TCA taint has no bearing on the safety of the wine, meaning a ‘corked’ wine isn’t harmful to consume, but it certainly lessens the enjoyment of the wine-drinking experience.
What Does Corked Wine Taste Like?
Corked wine typically has an unpleasant aroma, often compared to damp cardboard or a musty basement. It can also have hints of a wet dog or damp cloth. The flavor is equally unappealing, lacking the fruit characteristics that a wine should have. Instead, it tastes dull and leaves a lingering aftertaste.
The characteristics of cork taint can vary. In some cases, it may be subtle, with just a faint off-note. In these instances, the wine may seem slightly off and lacking its usual vibrant fruity notes. However, in severe cases, the musty aroma and flat flavor are overwhelmingly apparent, making the wine nearly undrinkable. The severity of the taint depends on factors such as the amount of TCA present and the type of wine.
How to Check Corked Wine Before Opening?
Before opening a bottle of wine, there are a few ways to check for cork taint. One method is to give the cork a sniff. A musty or damp aroma is an immediate indication of possible contamination.
Visual Inspection of the Cork
Before you even open the bottle, some tell-tale signs might indicate the possibility of a corked wine. If the cork is protruding from the bottle or if there are visible signs of seepage, it could mean the wine has been stored in improper conditions, increasing the risk of TCA taint. Additionally, if there are signs of mold on the outside of the cork or bottle, it might suggest the presence of TCA.
After removing the cork, closely inspect it for any signs of damage. Look for visible cracks, holes, or crumbles – any of which could be a gateway for the TCA-contaminated air to enter the wine. Also, check for any abnormal discoloration or a particularly strong, off-putting smell that resembles wet cardboard or a damp basement – these could be signs of cork taint. Remember, a healthy cork should look relatively smooth and smell fresh, carrying the aroma of the wine it sealed.
Examine the Wine Label and Packaging
While the wine label may not provide a direct indication of whether a wine is corked, it can give some insights. For instance, if the producer uses natural corks exclusively, and the wine is from a vintage known for TCA taint problems, it might raise your suspicion. Additionally, signs of poor storage, such as water stains on the label, can hint at the possibility of cork taint.
The capsule or foil that covers the cork and wine bottle’s neck can also offer clues. If the capsule appears damaged or excessively loose, it could suggest improper handling or storage, increasing the risk of cork taint. On the other hand, if the foil underneath the capsule has signs of oxidation or corrosion, or if it has an unusually strong, musty odor upon removal, this could also indicate potential TCA contamination.
How to Check if Wine is Corked After Opened?
The Sniff Test
The first and perhaps the most obvious way to tell if wine is corked is by giving it a sniff. Cork taint has a few distinct and often unpleasant aromas, including musty, wet cardboard, or a dank basement-like smell. Keep in mind that these smells are not always strong and may vary in intensity.
The Initial Sniff:
As soon as you’ve removed the cork, take a quick sniff. TCA can sometimes be noticed right away. If you smell something musty or akin to wet cardboard, you may be dealing with cork taint.
If you’re unsure from the initial sniff, pour a small amount of wine into a glass. Swirl the wine gently to aerate it and release the aroma. Place your nose just above the rim of the glass and take a deep inhale.
After pouring the wine, you can also smell the cork directly, or the residue left in the bottle. Cork tainted with TCA will often leave a detectable scent on the cork or inside the bottle.
The Taste Test
If the wine passes the sniff test but still doesn’t taste right, it could suggest cork taint. Corked wine can have muted flavors and lackluster complexities compared to its non-contaminated counterpart. It may also have a lingering, off-putting aftertaste that can ruin the overall drinking experience.
To determine if a wine has cork taint based on taste, follow these steps:
- Initial Sip: After the sniff test, take a small sip to get a sense of the wine’s initial taste profile. Keep in mind that cork-tainted to the aftertaste. A corked wine usually leaves a persistent and distinctive taste that is often described as musty or moldy.
- Hold and Assess: Hold the wine in your mouth for a few seconds. This will allow it to come into contact with all areas of your palate. Corked wines can taste flat, with diminished or distorted flavors.
- Swallow and Observe: Swallow the wine and pay attention wines may taste less fruity and duller than expected. Also, pay attention to any lingering aftertaste, which can be bitter or musty.
- Compare and Contrast: If possible, taste a small amount of another wine from the same bottle that you suspect may also have come in contact with TCA. This will give you a better idea of what flavors should be present in an untainted wine.
The taste of corked wine can vary depending on the style of the wine itself.
In red wines, cork taint can mute the bold, fruity flavors and lead to a lackluster palate with a noticeable musty aftertaste. The tannin structures might seem off-balance, and the wine may taste overly astringent or bitter.
Cork taint in white wines often results in a reduction of the vibrant, fruity, and floral notes typically associated with these wines. The wine may taste overly acidic, with a sharp, unpleasant finish.
For sparkling wines, cork taint can significantly mute the fruity and toasty flavors. The wine may also lose its characteristic effervescence and finish flat, with a musty or moldy aftertaste.
In sweet wines, cork taint can lead to a reduction in the wine’s sweetness and the typical fruity and honey-like flavors may be overwhelmed by a flat, musty taste.
What happens if you drink corked wine?
Drinking corked wine will not harm your health, but it may taste unpleasant due to the TCA taint. If you suspect a wine is corked, it is best to avoid drinking it and instead ask for a replacement bottle.
Can white wine be corked?
Yes, white wine can be corked just like red wine. TCA taint is not exclusive to red wines and can affect white wines as well. However, it may be more challenging to detect in light-bodied white wines compared to bold reds.
How to Handling Corked Wine?
If purchasing wine at a restaurant, you have the option to return it. If you ordered the wine online, make sure to keep your receipts. Many online retailers are willing to provide refunds or send you a replacement bottle.
How Do You Fix Corked Wine?
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Saran Wrap trick? Dr. Andrew Waterhouse from UC Davis found that the plastic molecules in Saran Wrap cling to the TCA molecules and ‘pull’ them out of wine.
Unfortunately, the Saran Wrap wine trick doesn’t work like it used to. In 2004, Saran Wrap made a smart decision to change its plastic wrap formula. The original formula, developed in 1933, potentially leached chlorine into food. The original Saran utilized a polymer called PVDC (polyvinylidene chloride). PVDC is still employed in various commercial food applications, such as wrapping frozen turkeys, as well as in commercial winery operations to prevent cork spoilage.