I have been reminded of a series we were doing about the confusing world of wine words and realized I never broached one of the most misunderstood words in all of winedom. This term is bandied about by consumers and professionals with nary a thought towards its true meaning. It is no wonder that so few understand what is truly meant when a wine is Corked.
I hear the term corked used often and usually incorrectly. I have had bosses who have seen a trickle of wine seeping between the bottle and the cork, eventually ending up a sticky mess under the capsule or on the floor and declared the bottle corked. Others see small bits of cork floating in the bottle or bottles that smell like vinegar and declare them corked. I have even had some sales reps who have presented wines to us without knowing it was corked. How is any of this possible?
One of the biggest problems is that the term “corked” is a misnomer as the issue isn’t necessarily linked to the closure as even wines under screw caps (known professionally as “Stelvin”) can be corked. This is because a wine that is corked is actually tainted with one of several substances that are members of a family of chemicals known as Anisoles.
The Anisoles primarily responsible for the phenomenon known as cork taint are 2,4,6 Trichloranisole, 2,3,4,6 Tetrachloranisole and 2,4,6 Tribromoanisole. All of these cause a very unpleasant aroma akin to a musty basement or wet dog, the descriptor is very personal. There is also the problem that sensitivity to the smell of these chemicals varies wildly amongst the population with some immune and some being able to sense it at as little as 1 part per trillion. This is equivalent to 1 gram of one of these chemicals dissolved into the water of 400 Olympic sized swimming pools.
A big problem in understanding the problem of a “Corked” wine is that, as stated earlier, there doesn’t necessarily have to be a cork. The first chemical listed above is a result of microbes present in the cork. The next two can be present in barrels and in wooden products in the winery such as palates and wooden walls. It is these two that can cause the taint in a wine under a screw cap. The scariest part of all of this is that it is estimated that between 4-7% of all wine is tainted. While it won’t hurt you, it isn’t the most pleasant experience.
So, next time you open a bottle and it smells like your grandma’s basement and the fruit has faded from the wine, remember, that particular bottle is probably corked. Another bottle of the same wine will most likely be just fine. Give it another go and we will be more than happy to exchange it for you. If you have any other questions about such topics, feel free to contact us at the store via e-mail or in person and we will be more than happy to answer them.
~ Randy Freeland ~