On Corked Wines…
Most have heard the term “corked wine”, but how does a wine become corked, and how can you spot one?
The term refers to a bottle that has become contaminated with trichloroanisole (TCA), or colloquially, “cork taint.” This chemical compound is created when a naturally occurring (and generally benign) airborne fungi comes in contact with certain chlorides found in chlorine bleach. Yes, ironically it’s contact with the cleaning agent used in winery sanitation that taints the wine. It is believed that cork taint afflicts roughly 5% of all wines bottled under cork, though the tainting itself occurs in varying degrees. Sometimes a corked bottle can be barely noticeable, and other times, whew, you know it as soon as the cook has been pulled. The percentage of corked wines appears to have been steadily declining since the early 1990s, when the cause of corked wines was discovered, and chlorine-based cleaners have been substituted for non-chlorine options.
So how do you know if a bottle is corked? Corked wines are often described as smelling and tasting of wet cardboard, or even less pleasant anologies, a moldy basement or a wet dog. When less overt, cork taint can make an otherwise fine wine lackluster and dull.
Corked wine is one of several types of wine faults. Though as this term is familiar to wine drinkers, flaws due to poor winemaking practices, storage conditions, etc., may be inaccurately identified as “corked.”
Should you encounter a corked bottle, know that it is common practice for the retailer or restaurant where the bottle was purchased to accept the return. Generally, if one confidently describes the problem, the returned bottle is accepted without question; however, a retailer or sommelier may choose to smell or sample the affected wine.