What is “Corked” Wine?

Question from Bill: Hi! What is corked wine?

Reply: Hi, Bill. Thanks for writing! With the popularity of plastic corks and screw caps you might well think that when someone says “This wine is corked” it means that it has a real cork in it! But, no…

When the wine is “corked” it means that it’s got a dank, moldy aroma like a stack of wet newspapers or a damp basement. Yuck! Fortunately, it’s not harmful. Unfortunately, it stinks! At low levels it dulls the fruit character. At high levels it’s extremely offensive! And, human detection is measured in the parts per trillion – this is potent stuff! If you hear a reference to “cork taint”, its the same thing.

There are other sources, but the most common reason for this off character is a compound called 2,4,6 tricholoranisole (TCA for short). We now know that TCA can come from other wooden surfaces (natural cork is bark of the cork-oak tree)  like a barrel or a picking box. Wineries have been known to remodel if they have any wooden surfaces in the actual production area because if you get the right naturally-occurring airborne fungi together with chlorine (very common in wineries; in the past they used chlorine to purify natural cork, but that’s been replaced by hydrogen peroxide) it’s a nice recipe for producing TCA.

Statistics are all over the board. Everything from 2% to 12% taint has been reported, depending upon who you talk to. Totally unacceptable.

And, this is the reason you see so many plastic corks, screw caps and other seals these days. No wood involved, so no risk of taint. However, some of us are more accepting of cork alternatives than others and natural cork is still the standard for fine wine. The jury is still out on long-term aging under screw cap. We already know that plastics can’t be relied upon for more than a few years. Environmentally, natural cork is by far the best. 

Cork growers and brokers are working hard to solve the TCA problem. Quality control has made great advances and one broker I know of has patented machine that purges TCA from corks. 

My turn to ask a question (actually two).

1. How do you feel about cork alternatives?

2. Do any of you think there’s less cork taint now than there was 5-10 years ago? I do.

Send me your wine question

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