Many wine lovers have heard the term “corked” used in reference to a faulty bottle of wine, but what exactly does the term mean? Below is all you need to know about our latest Wine Word of the Week.
The term “corked” (aka “cork taint”) does not refer to a crumbly cork or cork bits floating in a wine. The term actually refers to a chemical compound, known as TCA or 2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole, which forms when cork tree bark is treated with chlorine compounds during the sterilization process. Corks made from this tainted bark will then proceed to infect and effectively ruin any bottle of wine in which they are used. TCA is also very stubborn and if left unchecked, can proceed to contaminate barrels, cellars and, in some rare instances, entire wineries.
The detection of a corked bottled of wine is also not always entirely straightforward since the presence of TCA can range in intensity. On the mild side, you just might think the bottle of wine you’re enjoying is a little “off,” but at its most potent, aromas of musty basement, wet newspaper and “funk” will assault your olfactory system and overpower any semblance of fruit, spice or other pleasant aroma you were hoping for. If you’re ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask your Sommelier or wine retailer to sample the wine in question for confirmation. A corked bottle should always be replaced with either a new bottle of the same wine or another selection.
So whether it’s a $10 Sauvignon Blanc or $500 Bordeaux, the fact is 3-5% of ALL wines with cork closures are tainted by TCA or “corked.” Which begs the question, isn’t there a better method? The screwcap seems to be the logical heir to the cork throne, but despite technological advances which now allow wines to age under screwcap, there is continued resistance for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are tradition and romance. Ironically, I can’t think of anything less romantic then spending hundreds of dollars on a bottle of wine only to find after waiting 20 years to drink it, that it was doomed from the start by its closure, can you?
It will be interesting to see where the technology is ten years from now and if, like the winemakers of Australia and New Zealand who use screwcap closures on approximately 90% of their wines, the rest of the wine world has placed more importance on guaranteeing their customers unspoiled wine over the tradition and romance of a faulty closure method. But who knows, maybe the treatment of cork will have evolved to the point where the occurence of TCA is a mere memory but…only time will tell.
I hope you enjoyed our Wine Word of the Week and to see previous installments please click here. Also, if there’s a wine word you’d like to learn more about please suggest it in the comments section below!