' Identify a Corked Wine - Soquel Vineyards


Identify a Corked Wine

I visited a prominent Napa Valley winery for a tasting a while back. Upon trying their signature dessert wine, an aggressive, corky aroma of mildew hit me in the face. I looked across the table to see if anyone had noticed and thank goodness, we were all on the same page. After notifying our host of our discovery, he insisted the wine was not flawed, seeming to be unfamiliar with the corked effect on the wine in our glass.  I was overwhelmingly troubled by this; I knew this wine, I loved this wine and there was no way this was an accurate representation of its beauty. It got me thinking, how many people are drinking a ‘corked’ wine and not noticing it or thinking it’s just a bad wine entirely?


So what is “corked”? It’s not when you find bits of physical cork in your glass! Corked is the term used for trichloroanisole, or TCA for short, a compound that reacts with wine and makes it taste and smell less than pleasant, often described as wet dog or newspaper. Wines can have varying levels of TCA, some so intense the smell engulfs the whole room, and some so subtle its almost undetectable. Some people can be more sensitive to TCA and can detect the slightest bit.


TCA comes from natural cork so wines that are bottled a with screw cap or synthetic cork cannot be affected by it. Winemakers also have the option of purchasing agglomerated cork, granules of cork that have been glued together. Because these are made by many little pieces of different cork, they reduce the risk of a TCA ridden product. The beauty of natural cork is its aging properties. A natural cork allows the slightest bit of oxygen into the wine over long periods of time, helping the wine mature and develop additional aromas and flavors. Generally, higher quality wine will be bottled with a natural cork.  


People often tell me they opened a “corked” wine then describe it as reductive, jammy, or metallic. This never strikes me as TCA, these wines may be oxidized, maderized (when the wine cooks), or a stylistic choice of the variety/winemaking. Corked only refers to wine with traces of TCA. This is a flaw as opposed to a stylistic choice of overly ripe fruit, extended maturation, or potentially poor storage.


Sadly, there is nothing we can do to remove TCA from the wine. I’ve heard there are hacks for it, like crumpling up a ball of plastic wrap and throwing it in a pitcher with the wine and it miraculously removes the tainted flavors and aromas. Listen, if this actually worked, we would have been doing this process a long time ago to resurrect those special wines that had broken our hearts. But TCA won’t harm you if consumed, so if you’re not offended by it or don’t notice it, have at it!


Most importantly, if you come across a corked wine in a restaurant, winery, or at your home, say something! Not only is it beneficial to the winery to know their product has been victim to corkiness, but it’s also great for others around you to get familiar with the effects of TCA. Many wineries, including Soquel Vineyards, will happily replace a corked wine.


Let’s drink like the aficionados we know we are!

Post By:   Stephanie Morgan