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Aug 9, 2012 12:35 PM

Corked Sensitivity

How sensistive are you to "corked" wines?

For me, the answer is not very. I would say I have detected corked wine odors no more than a dozen times in more than 30 years as a wine hobbyist. For me, these odors, the classic musty wet cardboard, have ranged from very strong, to faint enough that I asked vendor to verify.
(on returning bottles, vendors' perceptions have been apparently the same as mine, ranging from, "Whoa yeah" to "You're right, there's something there."
Now, I have had plenty of wine "without fruit", but you know, without the odor of corked, I really never think/thought to blame it on cork, since at the price level of much of the wine I have purchased over the years, I figured they just didn't have any good fruit built into them. Maybe I was wrong.

So that's me, I can smell it faintly or strongly, but other than that...

I posted this after looking at the revived thread about Saran wrap curing or at least dumbing down corked symptoms. The thread brought up figures I have seen before estimating that 5-10% of all bottles are corked. That's a bad bottle every case or every two cases. That seemingly means I've missed hundreds of bottles that were corked.

So how about you? Come across a corked bottle every month? Every couple of weeks? half a dozen times a year? Or what?

Oh, and does the corked aroma present itself or is it a lack of fruit that you attribute to the wine being corked without the "plain" olfactory evidence?

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  1. I haven't had more than a handful of corked bottles and I'm 63. Of course, it may depend on where you buy yiur wines from and also how old they are.

    6 Replies
    1. re: kagemusha49

      >>> it may depend on where you buy yiur wines from and also how old they are. <<<

      I don't understand. Could you explain how age would affect whether or not a wine is corked? Also, since TCA comes from things like tainted cork or wood (think a barrel or the wood in a wineries cellar), how would where you purchase the wine make a difference?

      1. re: zin1953

        I'm sorry - I was not (until now) familiar with modern theories on the origin of corked wine. My bad.

      2. re: kagemusha49

        The location of purchase, or the age of the wine will have zero bearing on the TCA (and other) contamination, THOUGH, I do believe that certain conditions might contribute to the notice of the problem.

        The taint can come from several sources, and not just from interaction with the cork and most likely the chlorine, with which they were sanitized. It can come from the barrel room, possibly from the actual construction of the storage area, and other forms of contamination, in the process.

        The wine industry will admit from 4% to 12% contamination, depending on which study you see. I feel, off the cuff, that it is about 10%, but would agree to the higher #, in some years, with some wines.

        I find more contamination with my younger whites, than my older, cellared reds (thankfully), but have encountered it with a few of those reds - usually one bottle only.


        1. re: Bill Hunt

          So you get 1-3 corked bottles every couple of cases?

          1. re: FrankJBN

            Yes, when the wines are under cork.


        2. re: kagemusha49

          Improper storage and age can result in oxidation, which is a different flaw.

        3. I am not in the wine industry, and I just haven't had a ton of experience having the "corked" taste/smell pointed out to me, so like you I will sometimes taste a wine without much fruit, or a dead nose...but I have only once been certain, without consulting others, that I was encountering a corked bottle.

          Animalistic type brett, however, I can taste and smell very very easily.

          6 Replies
          1. re: goldangl95

            Now, and depending on the wine/producer/region, Brett is a bit more difficult to rule as a fault, though that also depends on the levels.

            TCA (and other) taint is usually screaming at me - scalped fruit, high acid (Maria Lorraine and I disagree on this one), and then that "musty Baptist hymnal smell, usually do it for me.

            With degrees of TCA, I might have to work beyond the "smell," and look to the elevated acid. If I am familiar with the wine, the scalped fruit is usually evident, but if I do not know the wine, it might not be THAT obvious, but compounded, TCA taint normally shows up, and can be confirmed.


            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Cork taint doesn't increase acidity. Probably in higher-acid wines the muted nose is making the wine taste more acidic.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                That has been the absolute opposite of my observations. That increase in perceived acidity is on of my tests.

                Now, Maria Lorraine agrees with you, but I do not. For me, and for my wife (also a hyper-sensitive taster), the acidity is a "give away."


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  I wondered about the acidity with TCA, so I asked ETS Labs. They said the two are unrelated. However, I have often found that TCA occurs with VA, hence the conflation of the two.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    While I am anything BUT a scientist, I have encountered the VA in almost every instance, to the point that I attribute it to TCA (and other) "cork taint."

                    For me, it is but observation, though careful observation. Why I get one, when I get the other, is beyond my pay grade. Same thing with "what happened to the fruit?"

                    Thanks for sharing the scientific material, as it is greatly appreciated, as always.


              2. re: Bill Hunt

                Just to clarify, I think cork taint often occurs with volatile acidity. That's how I separate the two distinct flaws.

            2. I notice it more at wine judgings, competitions, and at tastings . . . perhaps I'm more focused on it, concentrating on looking for flaws . . . at competitions and the like, the rate-of-taint runs about 5-7% or more. (This is competition-wide, not merely the wines that I taste.) The highest rate I've ever experienced was, IIRC, 12 percent, but that was when a lot of wineries were using Altecs.

              In terms of the wines I open at home and/or in restaurants, it is lower -- say 3-5%.

              In terms of "wine 'without fruit', but you know, without the odor of corked," wines with very low levels of TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) can indeed seem to be "without fruit," and not demonstrate the musty cellar/wet dog/wet cardboard aromas that are -- for lack of a better term -- classic TCA. There are times when the ONLY way one can tell if a wine is corked is if and when a second bottle is opened . . .

              Obviously this isn't always feasible. But I will say that there have been several times when I wasn't sure that a specific wine was corked (at a judging/competition), but someone else was -- and a second bottle confirmed that, yes indeed, the first bottle was corked!

              4 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                With respect Zin (and I recognize that you know your stuff) this sounds about as reliable a method of determining whether a wine is corked as Russian judges at the Olympic games.

                1. re: kagemusha49

                  Sorry. You've lost me. How else would you determine whether or not a wine is corked, short of opening the bottle and then holding off on dinner until you've had a chance to send a sample off to ETS and waiting until the report comes back?


                2. re: zin1953

                  I've lost count of how many times I've confirmed a wine was corked or otherwise flawed by opening a second bottle.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Now, you do much more of this, than I do, but I can only recall one TCA-tainted bottle in competition. However, I have nailed a half-dozen bottles at "trade tastings," and the responses have been very telling, and not something that one should take much comfort in.


                  2. I'm the least less sensitive to TCA of all the wine nuts I know. I can't smell it unless the wine is hideously corked. Funny, given that I'm also the most sensitive to oxidation.

                    If I know a wine, I can recognize that it's corked by the flattened nose and muted flavor. Sometimes in a wine bar or restaurant if an unfamiliar wine seems like I'll ask the bartender or sommelier to check and often it turns out to be corked.

                    1. I'm quite sensitive. I'm usually the go to "is this corked?" guy in my wine circles. People tend to think maybe the flaw will "blow off" given time. I've always found corkiness intensifies with exposure to air rather than dissipates.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Brad Ballinger

                        Some faults blow off, but corked is corked, and will only get worse.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I completely agree.

                          I wish that it WOULD "blow away," as some faults, or perceived faults can - but it does not.


                        2. re: Brad Ballinger

                          My recollection is that corked that I can smell is generally worse the next day.

                          1. re: FrankJBN

                            I have not encountered situations, where the TCA (and other) increases. I often save faulted bottles, to share with wine tasting groups, like Wine & Food Society, to educate others.

                            Now, oxidation CAN increase, after the cork has been initially pulled, but that should be expected.


                            1. re: zin1953

                              +1. A good tip is to walk away from the wine for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes and come back to it and smell it freshly.

                              Corked wine, as Jason explains, often appears with only a faint musty or wet dog/cardboard smell. Then, to confirm the wine is corked, you look for other signs, muted or no fruit or a flatness in flavor. IMO, many wines that are simply dull or not appealing are actually subtly corked.

                              I've found, like Bill, the old musty book, Baptist church hymnal, smell descriptor to be quite apt.

                              I've also found that once people ID the smell, they "lock" it in, and can smell TCA at lower and lower levels. It's a smell as distinct as singed hair, burning electrical wires or a rotten potato --
                              no other smell is like it.

                              Sensitivity to corked wines, of course, varies by person and exposure. Amorim, the cork producer, puts on a seminar that presents the taster with doctored wines, with wines at 2 ppb TCA, and at 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 ppb and so on. Interspersed within those wines are wines with no TCA. What this test reveals is one's individual perceptive threshold -- how faint can the TCA be before you detect it? Another part of the seminar consists of tests to discern TBA (which is just like TCA but with "green-ness"), TeCA and the other haloanisoles.

                              I'm extremely sensitive to TCA/TBA, and once I smell it, I can't ever go back to enjoying the wine.

                              1. re: maria lorraine


                                As with your experiences, once a taster identifies the tastes, and smells, they seldom need a "refresher course." Once is usually enough. The "imprint" seems forever etched in their psyche.

                                One thing that seems to often accompany the declaration of a TCA "corked wine," is a strangely gray, and dry cork, even when the bottle has been stored on its side. That is not a universal, but I have encountered it often enough, to use that as a possible tell-tale, like the odor, the scalped fruit and the higher levels of acid (or perceived acid).