How to Tell If Wine is Corked

Posted on 07-03-2017

Author: Lamar Engel

Date: 4/5/2015

How To Tell If Wine is Corked

Have you ever noticed a wine you just opened that smells or tastes off? Have you stopped purchasing a specific wine because it smelled wrong? It could be that you have discovered a natural and common phenomenon in wine called ‘Cork taint’ or a ‘Corked’ bottle of wine.

Corked wine can be so off-putting that some people will quit drinking wine after their first bad experience.
Cork taint is not easily identified which can make it hard to differentiate bad wine from wine that has gone bad.  The typical wine consumer will encounter an average of 100 corked bottles in their lifetime without ever knowing.
What is Cork Taint

Cork taint is known in the business by the name ‘TCA’ and by wine experts as ‘2, 4, 6, Trichloroanisole’. Cork taint is a defect that can permeate into wine through corks, which can respond to the wine. Encountering a corked bottle of wine is not a pleasant experience and can be difficult to detect if you are not familiar with its telltale signs.

The profile of a corked wine with high levels of TCA include aromas of:
  • Wet Dog
  • Wet Cardboard
  • Wet Newspaper
  • Musty Basement
  • Dank Cellar Smells
  • Damp Mildew Washcloths

When a wine has low levels of TCA it may not be detectable to all noses, and will not give off the above list so readily. Although cork taint is not harmful to drink, it hampers the overall flavors of the wine, which can make it quite distasteful.
Cork Taint (TCA) Checklist – Questions to Ask if trying to Assess Wine
  • Was the wine sealed with a real cork? (Synthetic Corks, or glass enclosures, screw tops will not throw TCA)
  • Does the wine have reviews and accolades that are not similar to what you smell in your glass?
  • Is your palate acting up again? (drink some water, smell your forearm and re-sniff)
  • Get a second opinion. Does someone else think it is corked too?

Learning how to identify the corked flavor in wine takes a little practice. Oddly enough it can be harder to sniff out a corked red wine than a corked white wine. This is because there are a multitude of layered aroma compositions that exist more so in red wine varietals than in white.
Where Does TCA Really Come From?

TCA is stranger than you might think. TCA happens when airborne microbial fungi and bacteria come into contact with chlorine and phenolic-based compounds at the same time. Since wines contain multiple phenolic compounds, and chlorine exists in treated water molecules, many wineries use water to clean their equipment with chlorine-based solutions. This results in the perfect storm for TCA to take hold within the bottle and react with the cork.  While this practice is now being resolved, it is nearly impossible to regulate since water is needed to extract bacteria from the equipment, and wash the corks after they have been manufactured.

 What to Do?

There is not much that can be done to do fix cork taint inside bottles of wine. Sometimes the aroma will blow off over time but almost always gets stuck within the phenolic compounds of the wine.
If you discover a wine you have just opened contains cork taint, recork it the best of your ability and try and return it where you purchased it.