enhanced in 2011

Corked wine

How can I recognize corkiness? How to avoid corked bottles?

 

How to spot corkiness

After uncorking a bottle you should taste the wine to identify any deficiency. Then you can either serve the wine or open another bottle.

A frequent cause for rejecting the wine is corkiness: an odour (of mold, decaying wood, lack of ventilation, dust) and a taste (of wet cardboard). The wine may be corked even if it tastes fruity and creamy. To identify the corked flavour, do not shake the glass. Even if you do not sense corkiness, it alters the taste of wine.

This anomaly is not always detectable at the bottle opening, but by the minute it masks the "original" wine taste. This is why - when in a restaurant - I reject the bottle at the first suspicion. If at home you have a doubt, take another glass. Rince it to remove any trace of dust or detergent. Do not dry it and taste again before setting the bottle aside.

Does this cork instill corkiness? Some people detect corked flavours more than others. In 2009 I made a survey of twenty wine tasters that I know. For them about 2 percent of (corked-sealed) bottles show an abnormal flavour that should lead to open another bottle. Furthermore the greatest wines are no more reliable than others. What to do with the corked wine? Recork the bottle and taste again a few days later... just in case. Then pour into the kitchen sink.

 

How to avoid corked wines

What are the factors that provoke corkiness? In some cases, the corked flavour is due to the stopper, while in others it comes from a tainted atmosphere which contaminated the wine before its closure (chloroanisoles, TCA).

The winemakers may reduce the proportion of corked wines further:

  • By purchasing better corks and by separating the rooms for storing wine from the rooms for storing materials;
  • For wine to drink in the following year the winemakers should change the stopper type to synthetic closures or caps, screw or crown. (Many experiments are successful over two years).

  • Some screw caps are specially designed to allow a good wine aging. Major producers are closing their bottles with such caps.

  • Boxed wines: increasingly good wines are made available in "Bag-in-Box" cardboard. The wine lies in a sealed pocket itself protected by cardboard. The advantages include: the absence of corked flavours and the persistance of good wine flavours several weeks after opening (against a few hours for a bottle).

In sum the wine industry has a responsibility in avoiding corkiness. If you want to meet the corked flavour more rarely you can:

  • Buy other cuvées: avoid bottle corks if you intend to open them in the year following the first sale.

  • Inform the winegrower that you would buy more wine if it was damaged less often.

  • Explain the problem and alternatives to your friends: to have information spread.

 

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