The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Corked Wine

Posted on | August 23, 2010 | Written by Tina Benitez | 2 Comments

Nothing hurts more than opening a bottle and finding that it’s undrinkable. Most of the time, the culprit can be found in one simple phrase: cork taint. Cork taint is fairly self-explanatory; it’s a cork that has been tainted with TCA or Trichloroanisole, which usually spoils the entire bottle of wine and can derive from the barrels or other cooperage. Nevertheless, it’s a really rare occurrence. Cork taint is also why any good server or sommelier will ceremoniously hand you the cork before tasting—you can smell the potential taint in a dry cork long before you taste the wine.

If, when you swirl and sniff, you smell more cork than fruit or other components in the wine, you’re smelling a bad sign. Some folks can tell if a wine is corked by scent alone; however, a sip is usually the next step, and it’s usually foolproof. The wine will smell like wet newspaper or dog, mold, or old sneakers and will usually overpower any natural fruit, spice and other aromas in your wine and shorten the finish of the wine.

Sipping, or even drinking, a corked wine is not the end of the world; it won’t kill you. It won’t even make you sick. One could even argue that tasting a corked wine is part of learning about wine. It’s a taste you won’t forget, however unpleasant, and having tasted it once, you’ll know what to look for in the future.

If you’re not sure know how to spot, or smell, a contaminated bottle, you aren’t alone. Most of the time, corked bottles are never returned to the store or restaurant; they’re simply remembered as a really bad bottle of wine. Whatever you do, never try to return a bottle that is half or nearly empty—if you’ve drunk that much, you need to accept your loss and move on, as hard as it may be to throw away a favorite wine. If, however, you’ve noticed the wine is corked upon opening, you have every right to return it, whether at a restaurant or a shop.

The good news is that cork taint really isn’t very prevalent. With any luck you’ll never have to experience it in all your wine tasting, though if you do, you’ll survive to drink another day.


2 Responses to “Corked Wine”

  1. Rick Stein
    May 9th, 2015 @ 4:43 pm

    what is policy on taking back corked wine?

  2. Janice Cable
    May 11th, 2015 @ 11:06 am

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks so much for asking. I turned the question over to Sergio Esposito, IWM’s Founder, for a clarity in answering. Here’s what he said:

    “The most recent UC Davis reports say that 10% of wines on the market are corked. As a retailer, if we were to credit 10% of wines we sell, we’d be out of business in a week–our importers and producers do not allow for such credits back to us. Our belief is that our due diligence is to work only with the best producers who care not only about selling their wines but also about the pristine condition of their wines. The work that we do to find careful, conscientious producers leads us to believe that our selection is far less than 10% flawed.”

    I hope this helps!

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