What Exactly is a Corked Wine?

Corked wine is something we’ve all heard of, but you may not know if you’ve ever actually encountered it.


How a Wine Becomes Corked 

A corked wine is one that has been contaminated with cork taint, and this contamination gives off a very distinct smell and taste. Cork taint occurs in a small percentage of all natural corks available in the world, with recent studies finding that only about 5% of wines with natural corks are actually corked. Since cork is a natural substance, little microorganisms often like to eat it, either while it’s still part of the tree or after it’s been turned into a wine cork. In small instances, these airborne fungi come in contact with the cork and create a substance known as TCA, a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6 - trichloroanisole).

Corked Wine Taste & Corked Wine Smell

While unpleasant to taste, cork taint is not in any way harmful to humans. Corked wines smell and taste of damp, soggy, wet or rotten cardboard. Cork taint dulls the fruit in a wine, renders it lackluster and cuts the finish. The obviousness of the corked smell and taste depends both on the extent of the taint, as well as the wine drinker's sensitivity to it. 

Interestingly, scientists, doing what scientists do, have actually uncovered a way to extract the TCA out of the wine, thereby removing the cork taint. This involves a process of letting the wine soak in a pitcher with a wad of plastic wrap for about 15 minutes and then pouring the wine into a new vessel, leaving the plastic wrap behind. The researchers that discovered this trick at UC Davis claim the TCA bonds to the plastic wrap and removes the cork taint from the wine.

If you discover that a wine you just opened is corked you have the right to bring or send it back. Retailers generally do not question it when you return a corked bottle — although it is best if the bottle is not almost finished!