Learn to Spot Corked Wine

Learn to Spot Corked Wine

You’re out for dinner and one of your friends tells the sommelier that the the wine is “corked.” You look into your glass expecting to see pieces of cork floating around.

But you don’t see anything. Maybe because you’re crocked?

No! Because there is nothing visibly wrong with a corked wine.

Instead, you need to smell it. A corked wine often will smell like old, damp cardboard or a pile of moldy newspapers.

Why? What happened?

A natural component of the cork seeped into the wine.

Warning: We have to talk a little science.

Trichloroanisole, a.k.a. TCA, is a compound found in corks. High levels of TCA let off a "musty" flavor and/or aroma that can seep into the wine. TCA is not harmful to you but it can ruin your favorite bottle.

“The insidious thing about TCA, though, is that it's not just from cork,” says Doug Shafer, president of Shafer Vineyards, who’s 2009 Relentless, a Syrah and Petite Sirah blend, was Wine Spectator’s 2012 Wine of the Year.

It can be found in wood and cardboard too. So if wine barrels or wooden crates get wet, they can let TCA into the atmosphere. Then your wine will get it too. The whole cellar can be infected.

So places like Shafer, with high-end wines like their Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay which retails for $52 and their 2013 One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon at $85, have gotten rid of all the wood in their warehouses. Everything is now metal and aluminum steel.

But the corks need to change too. “We gotta get a better system,” says Shafer.

(Is it still hip to drink bad beer? Found out from The Pint.)

What are the Options?

A cork is basically made from cork oak trees that are harvested every nine years. The majority of cork forests are in Portugal, with Spain a close second.

Thankfully, cork makers are keenly aware of the problem and offering new options.

Here are two examples, in very simple terms.

Diam, which is based in France, takes already made corks, breaks them apart and blows high-pressured carbon dioxide over the pieces to remove all traces of TCA. “Basically the same way they take caffeine out of coffee – with super-critical CO2 extraction,” says Francois Margot, sales manager for Diam.

Then they put the cork back together and guarantee that there is no TCA.

Portocork has poured a ton of money into research & development and has come up with a way to test every natural cork for TCA. And again, they guarantee their corks are TCA-free.

But the process is costly so the availability is limited. In 2016, there were 30 million Portocorks available. They are upping production and expecting to have 100 million by 2017, says Dustin Mowe, president of Portocork.

Simultaneously, guys like Shafer are testing these corks to make sure the wines still age properly.

The good news is cork taint is down. And while the number is hard to quantify, winemakers will probably say 1-3% of corks are tainted. But that’s still too much when you have to dump the wine down the sink.

Send it back!

To help further all this research, if you are at a restaurant or buy a bottle and it is tainted, send it back.

The restaurant will then return it to the to distributor, who sends it to the winery. “And I want to know what happen,” says Shafer. He will then send the bottle to the lab to be tested.

So you’re doing them a favor. And the last thing you want to do is drink a corked wine.

So don’t be shy and consider yourself helping science.

Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for Foxnews.com, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip. 

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