Since the beginning of the year I have been keeping track of the number of corked bottles of wine I have come across. Again, for my purposes here I am just considering 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA).
TCA typically comes from cork but may also come from barrels and other sources. A number of people have asked me what a wine affected by TCA smells/tastes like. The most frequent descriptions are ‘musty’ or ‘moldy newspaper’ or ‘damp basement.’ Looking for TCA is part of the purpose of checking a wine when it is presented at a restaurant (where at least you have the good fortune of being able to send it back). Unfortunately in many cases consumers don’t know what to look for and just think that the wine is of bad quality.
To try to make the count as accurate as possible I have: only included wines that I have personally checked (meaning that they hadn’t already been screened); and only included wines that used cork as a closure (excluding synthetic corks, glass stoppers, and screw caps).
Since the start of the year I’ve sampled 274 wines that fit these criteria. Eight of these wines have been corked, making the percentage currently about 3%.
One interesting question is, what constitutes an acceptable level?
I’ll continue to give periodic updates throughout the year and will also continue to increment the ‘Corked Counter’ along the side of the blog. Feel free to share your stories and thoughts.
I am very sensitive to corked wine and can pick it out in a group of experienced tasters when no one else does until I mention it and they really stop and pay attention. Even then, sometimes others will say "I don't get it." I don't think any level is acceptable. It isn't just the addition of one taste or aroma. It impacts the whole profile of the wine. I understand that cork taint can actually affect the profile and finish of the wine at levels that are not perceptible by taste or aroma. I told someone about bottle of wine from a good producer that had a front end but absolutely no middle or finish. He said this can be the product of otherwise undetectable cork taint. I went to my trusty Google and found an article in a technical industry publication; the kind with chemistry and stuff that is over my head. It confirmed what I had been told and discussed the effect of cork taint on wine independent of taste or aroma and mentioned how it can result in a wine like the one I described. Sorry, I can't give you the chemical discussion.
Anon, I agree that I have seen a certain flavor stripping and change in the mouthfeel of corked wines. Even if the aroma can be difficult, sometimes or for some, to notice, the effect on the perception of the wine might not be. Thanks for the comment.
I've noticed that most of the time a tainted wine carries multiple faults some of which are more prominent then others. A faulty cork leading to a TCA taint can lend itself to some oxidized characteristics.
Also an interesting thing to note is the threshold for fault perception varies from person to person. Someone who may drink only primarily wine under screwcap may be more sensitive to wine under cork. For example, I have a friend who spent a couple years in Australia where he drank wine almost exclusively under a screwcap enclosure. When he got back to the states he was so sensitive to the cork influence on wine that he found himself hypersensitive to corktaint and because of that had trouble drinking wine in the states.
All very interesting things to think about.
TylerH, interesting story. Thanks for sharing it.
So TastingRoom.com started a business in which they repackage wine into 50ml bottles. Originally this was make it more convenient to send samples to reviewers, but now they sell sampling packages to the public. In moving the wine from the original 750ml bottles to the 50ml bottles they use a machine that detects TCA and rejects the bottle if it is found.
Should bigger producers of wine subject their bottles to this type of testing before it ships from the winery? Would the process catch some, if not most of the contaminated corks? I wonder if TCA is detectable before the cork is inserted into the bottle.
Wineries I have talked to vary greatly in terms of how seriously they take the issue of cork taint. One winery I spoke with declorinates all of the water coming in to the winery to decrease the risk of TCA in the barrel. They also used only batches of cork that had been tested three times for TCA. Finally, they kept track of all of the corked wines that were opened in the tasting room to track the percentage of taint.
So there are numerous steps that can be taken. Of course all of these steps come at a cost. It should also be noted that the quality of cork can vary greatly, so paying for higher quality cork can produce far less contamination. Again, this comes at a cost. Of course this begs the question, what is the cost of a corked bottle of wine?