You’ve heard the term, “corked,” but do you know what it means and how to tell if a wine is corked? You might even be drinking corked wine and not even know it. It can be tough to detect if you don’t know what you’re looking, or actually, sniffing for. Statistics say that 1 in every 12 bottles of wine is corked.
So, what does “corked” mean? It’s a wine term used to describe a wine that has been ruined by TCA taint. TCA is an acronym for Trichloroacetic acid, which spoils a wine. It’s most commonly found in natural corks, which is the widely used closure for wine and sparkling wine. There are other closures used by wineries in an attempt to avoid TCA.
Let’s explore the types of closures you can find for a bottle of wine.
1. Natural Cork – The most traditional and widely used form of sealing a wine. Cork is a tree that is now sustainably farmed in Portugal. The best part of the cork is the center of the tree and the more premium wines will use this section. Ever wonder why some wines are so pricey? Investing in premium cork will ensure less issues. Natural corks are also a wise choice for the environment because they are completely biodegradable.
2. Synthetic Cork – Synthetic corks are made from plastic compounds designed to look like natural cork, but without the risk of a wine being “corked.” Unlike natural corks, synthetic corks are made from material that is not biodegradable, but they are recyclable. Check with your local recycling station to see if you can toss them in the blue bin.
3. Screw Cap – I think by now we all should know that screw cap doesn’t mean a wine is cheap, it’s just easier to open! Several wineries around the world have adopted to using this metal form of a closure. Most reason being is because it almost guarantees the wine will be flawless, but as in any wine regardless the closure, there can be quality variation.
4. Glass – First introduced in the European wine industry, more wineries around the world have adopted this closure. Thought of as an optimum closure, these glass tops are expensive and I’ve personally seen less of them on the market since they were introduced in the early 2000’s.
So how can you tell if a wine is corked? Corked wine is detected after initially opening a wine or sparkling wine. Always pour about an ounce in your glass, like they do in restaurants, before pouring a full glass. Swirl it around and give it a whiff. I suggest closing your eyes while doing this because you are closing off one of your senses. If you can imagine the smell of wet cardboard or a musty basement, that is what a corked wine is. You are going to have a lot less fruit on the nose because TCA takes over the wine (wine should smell fresh when young and have more dried fruit notes when older). If you can detect that wet cardboard smell, there’s no need to taste it because it will not be pleasant! If you still can’t tell, then do taste the wine and if it’s musty like, the wine is corked. Many people confuse these characteristics with a wine being “earthy,” but that’s not the case. Earthy notes are actually pleasant (herbs, eucalyptus, mushrooms, mineral, etc.) and there should always be a healthy dose of fruity characteristics. There is a tasting wheel that you can buy and have on hand when tasting. It walks you through the types of aromas/tastes found in particular wines. This is an awesome tool for a wine enthusiast, especially those who are just starting to learn.
Is there anything you can do once you determine a wine is corked? In regards to the wine improving, no. Leaving it open to breathe, decanting, drinking the next day, none of that will take away TCA taint. You can though do something about that bottle. If you’re in a restaurant, you can return it. If there’s a Sommelier or Manager available, they may want to smell the wine to verify, but don’t feel like you have to drink a wine you believe to be spoiled. You are not inconveniencing anyone and the restaurant personnel want you to enjoy your visit. If you brought home the bottle from a retailer, you can also return it to the store within a day or so.
If you want to avoid the chances of corked wine, then perhaps buying alternative closures is what is best. However some of the best wines is the world will almost always be sealed by natural cork, so sometimes you just have to roll the dice. I guarantee it’s worth it.