‘Corked Wine’ is spoiled wine which has been tainted by microbial infected cork. The various microbes that may infect cork create chemical compounds that cause unpleasant aromas and off flavors in wine. The Spoilage is not harmful to one’s health however the taint is detectable at very low levels and can cause great disappointment.
Many of us have seen some movie where someone is dining in a fine restaurant and a bottle of wine is presented to the patron who smells the cork before the wine may be poured. One can easily determine if the wine has been tainted by a sniff of the cork. In my experience most of our guests are unfamiliar with what is meant by ‘Corked Wine’ though most have experienced it unaware of the actual problem. ‘Corked’ is more of a blanket term for any spoilage caused by the natural cork, and various foul compounds which can be associated with various contaminating microbes. One compound in particular stands out as perhaps the greatest offender, Trichloroanisole better known as TCA. It is often characterized as odors that are musty, moldy, dirty or of wet dog. TCA has such a pungent, distinctive and powerful scent that once one has smelled it this scent will not be easily forgotten. TCA is produced when some amount of chlorine in the environment is metabolized by a microbe. The wine may have been tainted by TCA anywhere during production however the natural cork is usually the source of the problem. Natural cork is the standard for premium wines, but unfortunately we can expect a small percentage of these natural closures to carry a TCA infection even in the highest quality cork. The cork industry strives to reduce taint problems in their product however advancements are slow and difficult considering cork is a natural product that is harvested from the bark of an oak tree. A few cork companies have recently begun to use machinery that is able to sense and remove tainted cork during the processing stage. These technologies are very expensive and new. No doubt time will reduce cost and improve the technology as well as increase the availability. In the mean time a few things to keep in mind: screw caps and synthetic cork are TCA free though they tend to be used for wine of a lower price point. Natural cork still prevails in the premium wine industry for various reasons, so if you find your favorite wine is corked consider exchanging it for a good bottle. Most establishments appreciate your business and take pride in their wine so they would rather replace the tainted bottle to keep you happy, provided the purchase was recent and the policy is not abused.