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Going 'Off' on Corked Wines

 

About corked wines

Have you ever wondered why waiters have you taste the little sample of wine before they serve it? Or why they leave the cork in front of you at the table? What you may not realize is that many wines are spoiled by bad corks that taint them with bad aromas. How does a wine get corked and how do you know if you've got a wine that's 'off'? Here's our guide.

What Makes Wines Corky? ... The Answer is TCA

The substance that causes these wines to become spoiled is called TCA, or 2-4-6 trichloroanisole. It takes very little TCA to overpower a wine's charms (even 8-10 parts per TRILLION!! is enough). It gets into the wine in most cases by way of the cork - although occasionally other wood in the winemaking environment can be the cause. Cork, being basically just bark, can contain naturally-occuring fungi when harvested, which when sterilized with a chlorine or bleach solution produces TCA.

What Does a Corked Wine Smell Like?

Corked wines generally smell musty, although there's lots of different types of aromas that can be perceived ... all of which are unpleasant. Wet cardboard is a common descriptor for the off aroma (it's probably what actually makes cardboard smell that way), although it can also smell like a wet dog, damp basement or moldy newspaper. It's completely harmless, but not exactly what you want your wine to smell like, right?

What Do I Do with a Corked Wine?

If you're in a restaurant, bring the flaw to the attention of the server when you've just tasted the wine. Remember - it doesn't mean that the restaurant hasn't stored the wine well or hasn't picked good wines - but is just a problem with that specific bottle. Most restaurants serving fine wines are accustomed to dealing with the occasional corked wine, and will replace it with a new bottle of the same at no cost. If it's a wine you've purchased at retail or from a winery, save it (the bottle with the wine left and the cork), and take it back as soon as you are able. In some cases, you may not be able to get a credit or replacement for the wine, but it's always worth a try!
 

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