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Waiter, this is a corked wine!

I experienced one of the most embarrassing ‟corked wine″ moments at a business dinner hosted by the instructors of the seminar along with other seminar participants. 
My hosts, knowing my interest in wine, gave me the wine list to pick the wine for the group. I chose a Riesling. 

The waiter started pouring the wine around; I was the last one to be served, while my colleagues started to sip while enjoying the conversations.
As soon as I smelled my glass, I knew this was a bad wine. This smell, typical of a wet basement, musty, was so intense. So I interrupted everyone by a loud "STOP! This wine is corked″, and called the waiter. 

My colleagues then tasted the culprit, paying more attention to the issue, and agreed that the wine was tasting "funny.″

This became an embarrassing situation. The waiter brought a second bottle, asked me to taste...and it was corked too. Third bottle...same. We ended up ordering a different wine.

Indeed, there is nothing that can be done, once the wine is tainted. 

What is a corked wine?

A corked wine is tainted as the result of a fungal growth in the cork tree bark or the cork closure itself. Fungi responsible for this taint react to chemicals called chlorophenols; these can come naturally from exposure of the oak cork trees to pollutants or can come from sanitization with chlorine. I was also told that chlorine was the best to kill mold and bacteria! However, not in the case of wood casks and corks.

Non desirable aroma compounds such as TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) are formed. Like many wine defects, these aroma compounds have a very low detection threshold, few parts per trillion, meaning that it does not take much to ruin a wine bottle! The result is a moldy, musty, wet basement-type of odor.

When the wine is seldom affected, the off-flavor is barely perceptible and experienced wine tasters will notice that the fruity aromas are not expressed as they should. This means of course that they know what to expect from this particular wine.

While it is mainly attributed to the cork closures, taint can also come from wooden barrels or other winery equipment not properly sanitized. And by not properly, I mean not using the proper sanitization method. 

Over the past 20 years, the industry has taken this problem very seriously and reduced the incidence of the taint significantly.

What should I do if I bought such a bad wine?

Send it back, that’s simple. I have seen friends pouring the whole bottle in a Ziplock bag hoping the taint will be captured in the plastic material. Does not work. Nowadays, establishments rarely deny replacing a corked bottle when you bring it back. It only signals that you pay attention to the wine quality you purchase.

How do I train to recognize a corked wine?

The best aroma reference is an actual tainted wine that you keep in the fridge or even freeze in small batches for future reference. It is difficult to source the TCA compound, and frankly, it is better not to do so as it is very volatile and tenacious, i.e. stinky!

To train and recognize a corked wine, prepare three glasses, coded with 3 digit codes, each containing a good wine mixed with a different proportion of the bad wine. Shuffle the glasses and smell them and try to order them from the weakest to the strongest corked smell. 

Practice this exercise while decreasing the dosage of the bad wine into the good wine. This will eventually enhance your sensitivity to this wine taint.

I hope you will never encounter a corked wine, however, if you do, now you are prepared and know how to deal with it.

Discover other wine aromas by browsing the wine aroma dictionary.

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