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Wine terms: Corked

Wine terms: Corked

“Ewww… a wet puppy.”

It can happen to any wine with a cork closure, regardless of price. It doesn’t make any difference what kind of wine it is, where it’s from, or who makes it. Cork taint, or corked wine, will spoil any wine at any time.

Know two things about corked wine. First, it’s caused by the presence of a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole for any chemists in the audience), which occurs in the cork and works its way into the wine. TCA can also be present in the winery, a chemical reaction waiting to happen. Research has shown that using chlorine cleaning products increases the chances of TCA presence, and most wineries don’t use them any more.

Second, TCA changes the flavor and aroma of the wine. Sometime it’s subtle, and sometime it’s as obvious as a wet puppy — literally. That’s one of the descriptions of the way corked wines smell and taste. Among the others: Moldy, musty, wet newspaper and dank basement.

One of the biggest problems with TCA is detecting it. Not every corked wine is obvious. There are different levels of cork taint, from subtle flavor masking to big-time smelly cheese. Plus, each of us is different in our ability to smell cork taint, just as we’re different in our ability to taste different flavors. Experience, especially for barely corked wine, makes a big difference. If you know what the wine is supposed to taste like, you can tell when it doesn’t taste right.

The Wine Curmudgeon has tasted wines that seemed OK, only to be told by the winemaker that it was corked. We could tell the difference in a second bottle, where the fruitiness was a little more pronounced. On the other hand, sometimes, it is obvious. I tasted a 10-year-old Super Tuscan a couple of weeks ago, and the corked odor was so strong I could smell it as soon as I opened the wine.

Note the difference between corked wine and oxidized wine, which is what happens to a bottle that has been left open too long. (Putting the cork back in won’t protect the wine, but that’s a blog post for another day.) In the latter, the wine becomes brandy-like. It’s the same thing that that happens to an apple that has been cut open. The presence of oxygen turns the wine brown, and changes the flavors and smell.

How prevalent is corked wine? It might be as high as 5 to 10 percent of all bottles, though other studies place the figure at around 2 percent. One reason for the increasing popularity of screwcaps is that they prevent TCA from corking the wine. Synthetic corks seem to do the same thing.

Finally, can you drink corked wine? Certainly. But why would you want to drink wine that tasted like a wet puppy? Dump it down the drain, and drink something else.

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