Wine Term: Corked
Variations: Cork taint, Tainted, TCA, Systemic TCA, Trichloroanisole
What it really means: The wine has an off-putting musty, mushroomy fragrance and taste.
This is not in regards to Pinot Noirs, where the mushroom fragrance and taste is very welcoming. And this is not in reference to the highly aged wines of Bordeaux where the musty cellar funk is oft-looked for; indicating proper long-term storage.
A ‘corked’ wine is infected with TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), a chemical that can fester on tree bark (and other wood sources), and when a natural cork that has been tainted and not properly tested for it before being used in production – even in trace amounts – can turn an entire bottle of wine into something that smells and tastes like it came from a damp corner of your grandmother’s basement and had been sitting there for far, far too long.
Oh, and the wine’s natural aromas are greatly reduced if not gone completely.
But fear not! It’s safe to drink, it won’t harm you. You’ll probably never get it down though due to the wet dog meets molded newspaper junction of the flavor profile.
Corks aren’t the only way TCA finds its way into wines. Another way is through systemic TCA – where it can get into entire wine barrels, essentially destroying your batch long before it ever had a chance. Barrels aren’t the only thing systemic TCA can effect, but pipes, hoses, and even roof beams can be affected and ruin entire vintages.
Systemic TCA situations aside (which are few and generally are caught long before the wine even gets to bottling), there is some comfort in knowing that synthetic corks, alternative natural corks, and screw cap closures all but eliminate the concern for getting a corked bottle of wine.
How to effectively use it:
Well, hopefully you’ll never need to use it. It’s unpleasant. But also be mindful to not use it when it’s incorrect.
There are a number of different ways a wine can be “off” however not all of them or even a few of them can be described as “corked.” Corked is a singular clear defect, not an umbrella term for someone disliking a wine (as it is unfortunately commonly used by the unknowing public). As we stated towards the top of this post, be mindful what you’re drinking, how old it is, and what style that wine is supposed to be. An Oregon Pinot Noir is supposed to have a mushroom-like fragrance, so that isn’t corked. A 25 year-old Red Bordeaux is supposed to have a bit of mold on the top of the cork and have a rustic cellar fragrance when first opened, that generally blows off with a bit of air, also not corked.
Be mindful when using the term of the bottle’s enclosure. It’s embarrassing to tell someone a screw cap wine is corked, same for synthetic and alternative natural corks. They may be skunked, they may be turned, they may even be somewhat fizzy from a bacteria imbalance causing a second fermentation in bottle, but none of those examples are “corked.”