Saturday, January 27, 2007

Waiter, my wine is corked...

photo © Linda Blakely 2007

Have you ever opened a bottle of wine, only to discover that the smell is really off? I'm not talking about what I refer to as "bottle funk", the slightly unpleasant aroma that you get after some wines are opened, but blows off after only a few minutes. I'm talking about the aroma of wet newspaper, a musty old book. That's what's known as cork taint, or "corked" wine. The cork gets tainted by trichloroanisole (TCA) and can ruin a good bottle of wine. Anywhere from 5% to 15% of all wine in bottles with cork closures is tainted with this nasty chemical. TCA smells like wet newspaper, old socks, or wet concrete, none of which are what you want in the bouquet of your favorite wine.

Natural and composite corks have been implicated in numerous cases of TCA cork taint in some of California's best known wineries. Cork's not the only source of TCA taint, but it is a major one. Wineries believe that eliminating cork would eliminate much of the problem, along with the huge cost.

So does 5-15% of the wine you buy have TCA taint? My personal experience, and I open a lot of wine, is much lower than that. I suspect that yours is, too. Unless there is a fair amount of TCA in the wine, most people won't be able to tell it's there at all (although some claim to be super-sensitive to TCA.) Often, you may just think the wine isn't as good as you had hoped, and move on to another brand.

It's most likely that you'll notice TCA under two circumstances: when it's in a wine that you drink regularly and one bottle seems "off", and when there's enough TCA to make it smell like an old gym bag. If either happens to you, return the bottle to whomever sold it to you. Most reputable wine sellers will replace bad bottles within a reasonable time after purchase. The bottle that's been in your cellar for a couple of years may be another story.

TCA is the reason so many wineries are switching to screw caps, or "Stelvin closures". Many oenophiles cringe at the thought of drinking wines that have a screw cap. There's a stigma that comes with it, but I believe that if a wine tastes good, it doesn't matter what kind of closure it has ;-)