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Aug 26, 2011 10:35 AM

Corked bottles

I am not sure if this is the correct term but I call bottles with stains up the cork to the top, or wet and moldy tops, corked. I have noticed that i get more of these from local wineries than from store fronts. Is 1 out of 15 or so to much? My wineries replace without problems, but now and then i order from out of state.
Also what are the advantages of cork vs plastic other than tradition? Does cork add flavour?

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    1. It's not the correct term. Corked specifcially refers to wine which is tainted by trichloroanisole (TCA). It comes from a fungus in the cork. My recollection is about 5% of wine are corked.

      There are no advantages to cork. Cork is not SUPPOSED to add flavor. Winemakers have resisted screw tops and synthetic corks primarily because buyers think they are tacky. This will eventually change.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sbp

        There are some advantages to cork, mainly that they allow a small amount of air into the bottle to allow them to age. Winemakers I have talked with have indicated that they think that screwcaps don't allow enough much air in (except for whites where one isn't looking to age) and that the plastic corks get loose after awhile.
        But this is a very controversial topic and there is more opinion than evidence out there.

      2. If you get wines with stained corks or really moldy corks from the wineries, tell them; it is not normal.

        1. A "corked" wine, is one, where there is TCA contamination. This is most often from a bacterial interaction with the chlorine in the cork. The common elements are a very "musty" smell, and usually scalped fruit in the wine, plus a higher acid level. Some will argue the latter, but I stick with my personal observations.

          With TCA., I often find that the cork is gray, and dry, regardless of how the bottle has been stored.


          1. Don't care what the cork looks like. Once you've tasted a "corked" wine, you'll know it when you encounter it. (Tastes kind of like dry vermouth, IMO.)

            12 Replies
            1. re: pikawicca

              Great point. Though most distributors will refund any corked wine to the retailer, or other, I save one, per quarter, just so that others an experience a TCA contaminated wine.

              Once they have - they never forget.


              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Hmm, I wonder how many wines i gave up on because I thought it was crap and it was a corked or bad bottle. Yours would be a great idea because dry vermouth means nothing if i did not know what to expect from a proper bottle. I would just think that this flavour was the intended outcome, and never try that wine maker again. Having an objective example would be a great education!

                1. re: budnball

                  One will never know.

                  In several restaurants, a waiter has passed behind me, with several glasses of wine. I have called them back, before delivering the tray, and pointed out that X glass was corked, and need to be replaced. I am very sensitive to TCA, and can often detect tiny parts, across a "crowded room."


                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    And this is why I spend my serious money on scotch and brandy. I don't think I will ever have that focused a palate and I'm pretty sure i can't afford it. A $250 bottle of whisky will last a month and not fade. And the next bottle will be pretty much the same.
                    That "ethereal" magic quality of wine gets a bit nerve wracking at $50-100 a bottle when I can't really tell what I'm tasting and if my next bottle will taste at all the same.

                    1. re: budnball

                      a) You don't NEED to spend $50-100 a bottle! (Honest!)

                      b) 2,4,6-trichorolanisole (TCA) smells, to me, much more like wet dog fur or moldy cardboard than anything remotely like dry vermouth -- to me! (YMMV)

                      c) Most components in wine are measured in ppm (parts per million); TCA is measured in ppb (parts per billion) -- humans are THAT sensitive to it. Even so, not every wine which is tainted with TCA will be all that obvious.

                      d) Wines with very low levels of TCA may NOT smell like wet dog or moldy cardboard; *however* the fruit in the mouth will be muted, the wine will seem dull. Even in professional wine competitions, sometimes one will not know/realize that a wine is corked until a second bottle is opened and is MUCH different in the glass.

                      Also, in the FWIW department, I've had distillates that were "corked" -- contaminated by TCA -- as well. That's one of the principal reasons why, for example, whisky distilleries moved away from T-corks to screw caps. Cognac and other brandy producers, however, still use them.


                      1. re: zin1953


                        I use a combo of your descriptors. "hymnals in a Deep South church." Cardboard, mustiness, dampness and once you have ever smelled one, it rather sticks with you.

                        Besides the "scalped fruit," I also find that the acid level goes up. With minor contamination, those two aspects are often only what one can go by.

                        My wife and I are both highly sensitive to TCA contamination, but have both experienced bottles that just did not seem right. If we know that wine, it does become easier. Also, and as you state, having another bottle handy, will usually confirm suspicions. Sometimes, the aroma of TCA is just too subtle, and other stimuli need to be considered.

                        We have had glasses, that were suspect, and we'd have to pass back and forth, to make that final declaration. However, when the replacement bottle arrives, we have always been confirmed.

                        Though I have picked up TCA on a tray of B-T-G passing behind me in a busy restaurant, there are some levels that I just cannot be positive on. Same with my wife (as she does not smoke cigars, she should be better, than I am). Still, when in doubt, the fruit and the acid usually do it for me. [Note: trusted and valued contributor here, Maria Lorraine, feels that the acid levels go down with TCA. I feel just the opposite. Maybe a difference in the wines, where I have made my observations?]


                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          TCA has no effects on a wine's acidity (according to ETS Labs) but can be accompanied by another wine flaw, volatile acidity. The acid bite of VA is all the more apparent since TCA robs (scalps) the fruit flavors from wine. So Bill Hunt is quite correct in his perceptions. I have noticed this as well, but more frequently notice that TCA (especially at low levels) makes the wine appear dull and lifeless, without even an acid bite to give the wine the barest hint of personality. This is another way TCA occurs in a wine.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            This is where we disagree. I find that most "corked" bottles DO have an increase of acidity, and that is part of what I will relate to, if the amount of TCA is below, even my senses.

                            Now, I do have to admit that I am only using my senses, and do not take such bottles into the lab, but what I find is an inordinate increase in perceived acidity, when there is TCA.

                            Thanks for weighting in - always appreciated,


              2. re: pikawicca

                Good quality vermouth makes a fine aperatif, on ice with a twist...not sure which vermouths seem foul to pikawicca but some really have a lot of flavor...I have noticed that corks with small green veins or dots running through parts are often indicators of off-flavors...maybe others have noticed this...I have encountered fewer corked bottles in the past ten years compared to the thirty years preceding (the mid-1970's and 1980's were the worst in my experience.)

                1. re: penthouse pup

                  Not a vermouth fan -- it tastes kind of turpentine-y to me.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    Some brands really do stink (like Stock's) but Boissiere really does have a floral scent, at least to me...but to me, corked wines have a musty, old shoe smell...

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      I actually like a "hint of turpentine" in some wines, but am not a fan of Vermouth - turpentine, or not.