One of my early memories as I was beginning to appreciate wine was my first lesson in cork taint. I had just sipped from a freshly poured glass of red wine, replying with the standard polite, beginner’s head nod as I tried like hell to identify the “cherry” and “plum” flavors I had heard so much about. Meanwhile, my seasoned co-worker sniffed her glass and replied, “Ick. This wine is corked!” and proceeded to toss the wine down the kitchen sink without even sipping. Corked? What did this mean? Whatever it meant, it was obviously bad and I quickly followed suit.
We’ve all heard the expression no doubt at some point but what exactly, does the term “corked” mean?
Cork taint is most commonly produced when naturally-occurring airborne fungi are exposed to chlorine compounds, which are then converted into chloroanisole. The result is called TCA (feared winemaker speak) and is responsible for most of the cases of cork taint.
So what does it smell like and how do you detect it? Think fungi. People commonly describe it as a damp, dark moldy basement, moldy newspaper, wet cardboard or mushrooms. There is great debate as to whether you can detect cork taint by sniffing the cork (and I will let you be the judge) but there are two sure fire ways that do not:
1) Its an expensive wine and therefore less prone to cork taint. Sorry. TCA is a naturally occurring fungi and does not discriminate.
2) There are bits of cork in the wine or crystals on the cork. Nope. The bits of cork are likely caused by a dry cork and the crystals are formed as a result of tartrate crystals which form when tartaric acid and potassium combine in chilly conditions.
So how many wines are affected by cork taint?
There is much debate as to how many corks TCA effects. It really depends on who you ask. For example, the Cork Quality Council finds that TCA only affects less than 1% of all corks while the wine industry estimates between 3-5%. Yet, in 2005 Wine Spectator concluded that of 2800 bottles tested, 7% were affected. I would guess somewhere in the middel - it does not seem coincidental to me that each statistic conveniently benefits each.
My advice is to keep tasting and developing trust in your own judgement. Developing your palate is a journey and like life, sometimes we need to be reminded of the bad times to appreciate the good times.
Question...While reading about this topic I found several articles which debated as to whether smelling the cork could indicate a problematic wine . Does anyone think one way or the other on this?