Why does my wine smell like cork?

Answered by Antonio Sutton

Corked wine, also known as cork taint, is a problem that affects a small percentage of wines sealed with cork closures. When a wine smells like cork, it is usually due to the presence of a compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). TCA can develop in cork or other wooden materials used in the winemaking process, such as barrel staves or even the winery facility itself.

TCA is formed when naturally occurring compounds found in cork, such as phenols, come into contact with certain types of fungi. These fungi can be present in the cork trees themselves or in the winery environment. When the fungi interact with the phenols, TCA is produced. Even small amounts of TCA can have a significant impact on the aroma and flavor of the wine.

The presence of TCA can result in a range of unpleasant aromas and flavors in the wine. Some people describe the smell as reminiscent of a wet dog, wet cardboard, or a musty basement. Others may perceive it as a damp, moldy smell or even a beach bathroom-like aroma. The taste can also be affected, with the wine often tasting flat, muted, or lacking fruitiness.

It’s important to note that not all wines with a cork closure will be affected by TCA. The risk of cork taint is generally low, estimated to affect around 2-5% of wines sealed with natural cork. However, this percentage can vary depending on several factors, including the quality of the cork used and the winery’s storage conditions.

To prevent cork taint, wineries take precautions such as rigorous quality control measures, using higher quality corks, and storing the wine in clean, TCA-free environments. However, despite these efforts, the risk of encountering a corked wine still exists.

Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse or eliminate TCA once it has affected a bottle of wine. If you suspect a wine is corked, there are a few signs to look out for. The first is the presence of the characteristic musty or moldy smell. Additionally, the wine may taste dull or lack the vibrant flavors typically associated with the grape variety.

If you encounter a corked wine, it is best to contact the producer or retailer and inform them of the issue. Many reputable wineries and wine sellers will offer a replacement or refund for corked bottles.

The smell of cork in wine is usually a result of the presence of TCA, a compound that forms when certain fungi interact with phenols in cork or other wooden materials. This can result in unpleasant aromas and flavors, ranging from wet dog to wet cardboard. While the risk of cork taint is relatively low, it is still a possibility when wines are sealed with natural cork closures.