The wine is a bit “corked”. Try smelling it. Erghhh, yuck, what’s this weird smell? Can’t you pick up that musty, wet cardboard smell?
Have you ever had that unlucky experience (which can be perceived as being “snobbish” by others) of encountering a “corked” wine and ask the sommelier to replace it at the restaurant?
A wine is corked when it has been in contact with a cork “infected” by 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, commonly known as TCA. TCA is formed when natural fungi (of which many reside in cork) come in contact with certain chlorides found in bleaches and other winery sanitation / sterilization products. It is this chemical, rather than the fungus itself, that causes the problem. Some people thought that the mold on the corks, which can be occasionally seen on old wines, cause the problem; this is incorrect.
The wine industry is of course well aware of the problem and has tried different solutions including screw caps, man-made corks and cork sterilization using microwaves as alternatives. Nonetheless, natural cork, which allows slow, minute oxygen ingress during maturation, is still the preferred choice for high-end wines requiring long maturation in bottles. Cork taint remains a problem to be solved and continues to spoil up to 5% of all bottles of wine.
What exactly does a “corked” wine smell like? A subtly corked wine may appear fruitless, unbalanced, uninteresting, and even disgusting to some people. More obviously corked wine has aromas of wet cardboard, mushrooms, mould and smelly socks!
The latest research result published in 2013 by a team of biophysicists in Osaka University showed that TCA does not react with wine and create these aweful smells. Instead, TCA simply blocks some of our olfactory receptor cells and “confuses” our brain with the musty smell. The level of TCA required to create such impact also varies among individuals.
What to do if you find a “corked” wine at home? Simply waiting for a few minutes or hours (or even days) won’t do any trick. Rumor in the community does suggest a rather simple and innovative solution, although could be messy.
Take a large amount of high quality plastic wrap, crumple it up and place in the bottom of a decanter or large glass pitcher. Pour the offending wine into the pitcher and swirl a few times and then let it sit about 5-15 minutes. Pour the wine out into another glass container and you’ll find the cork taint is gone. What’s the magic? The TCA bonds with the polyethylene (essentially plastic as we call it in daily life) in the wrap, thus removing the unpleasant odor from the wine.
Does this really work? There have been mixed reviews on the internet. Some say it does, some say it does not. Of course, you also speed up the aeration of the wine when you stir and swirl the wine in the decanter. Well, instead of just pouring the wine into sink (after moment of silence), you might as well give this trick a try at home. (If you do, please email us and let us know if it does work for you).
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seattleye/2935958183/