Many wine drinkers will be aware of the term ‘corked wine’. While you may presume this is simply to do with whether or not a wine bottle is closed with a cork or a screw top, corked wine actually refers to a wine that has been contaminated with cork taint. Frequent wine drinkers may have come across such a bottle in their time, but if you don’t know the signs to tell if a wine is corked here is a guide to help you.
How does wine become corked?
The term corked wine is used to describe a wine that has been contaminated with cork taint. Cork taint is caused by the inclusion of a chemical compound, known as TCA, in the cork. As a natural product, sometimes corks contain fungi, and when this is mixed with certain chlorides during the bleaching and sterilisation process of cork making, TCA can be created. When a winery then uses a cork infected with TCA, the wine can become ‘corked’. At its worst, TCA can even ruin an entire cellar or winery worth of wine!
The cause of ‘cork taint’ has only been discovered relatively recently, during the 1990s, so corks that pre-date this time are more likely to be affected. Since the cause was determined, most wineries have stopped using chlorine-based products to sanitise their corks in an attempt to halt the effects of TCA. Recent studies have suggested that only around 5% of wine bottles that use natural corks are ‘corked’, however, when you are a regular wine drinker, this can certainly start to add up. Wine Folly, for example, state that a wine lover is likely to encounter around 100 bottles of corked wine in a lifetime; although they won’t always be bad enough to be undrinkable! Corked wine is nothing to do with the cork breaking and falling into the wine. If you need help removing a broken or crumbling cork from a bottle, follow our guide!
What does corked wine taste like?
While cork taint is not harmful, making corked wine safe to drink, generally you will not want to as they often smell and taste unpleasant. The drinkers’ personal sensitivity to wine tastes and smells, combined with the extent to which the wine has been impacted by cork taint, will affect how obvious the taste and smell of the wine is. The most common description for corked wine is that it smells wet or musty; some say it is akin to soggy cardboard, while those with a worse experience state it as smelling like a wet dog! If the smell doesn’t put you off and you have a sip of the wine, it will have a dull, flat flavour, with all hints of fruitiness gone.Often it is harder to determine whether a red wine is corked than if a white wine is.
How has the wine world dealt with corked wine?
Around the millennium, corked wine was at a high, with around 8% of all bottles with corks being affected by taint. Due to this, alternative bottle closures, such as screw caps or plastic cork stoppers became much more popular, eliminating the risk of contamination from cork. The cork industry, for the most part, has stopped using chemicals which can cause TCA when cleaning cork. They have instead turned to procedures which leave the cork less at risk to cork taint, however, this does not mean that the issue is completely eradicated yet.
What to do if you have a corked wine?
Finding out the bottle of wine you have been looking forward to drinking has been corked can be very irritating. There is a scale of severity when it comes to cork taint, with lower levels of TCA just making the wine a bit bland and tasteless, and with higher levels producing the unpleasant wet dog smells. Unless you’re a serious wine connoisseur, many people just put up with a slightly unsatisfactory sip when the level of cork taint isn’t too bad. This doesn’t have to be the case, however, as most wine retailers will accept a return on corked bottles – provided you haven’t guzzled it all anyway! The same goes for restaurants; use the taste test when the wine is first poured to check that all is well with the wine. If you are unsure, you can always ask the sommelier to have a sip, as they should be able to tell instantly!
While keeping the wine safe from cork is all down to the winery, you can ensure that your bottles are kept in the best condition they can be by upgrading your wine storage. From custom wine cellars to kitchen wine cabinets, Tanglewood Wines has something to suit every wine lover!