Screw It: What's a Corked Wine

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What does it mean when somebody says their wine is "corked"? Aren't most wines bottled with corks?
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You're watching Screw It on SuppleWine. I'm your host, Mike Supple.

What does it mean when somebody says their bottle of wine is corked? Does it just mean that the bottle is closed with these guys? [Photo of corks.] Actually, no. When somebody says a bottle is corked, they mean that there is a flaw in the wine.

The term "corked" is an easy-to-use term for the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA. TCA forms when organic compounds react with chlorine, which in turn react with moisture and mold.

When TCA comes into contact with wine, it has the unpleasant effect of making your wine smell and taste a lot like wet cardboard or even wet dog. It's important to note that this isn't bad for you - it won't harm you if you drink a corked wine - but it really tastes terrible.

If you have a wine that you think is corked it doesn't mean the winery is to blame. The reason the term "corked" is used is because TCA most frequently comes from corks - from mold in the corks reacting with the other compounds and getting into the wine. However, it doesn't only come from corks. TCA can be present in wood - the barrels or the pallets used to stack cases - and can be anywhere in the winery. But most frequently it happens because of wines' contact with corks.

This is something the cork industry is trying to eliminate, because it does actually affect one in 10 or 12 bottles of wine. This doesn't mean that one in 10 or 12 bottles of wine that you open is going to taste terrible because different people have different thresholds of where they can taste it - that's why it's important to note that it's not bad for you. It does mean that if your drinking a lot of wine, particularly wine sealed with regular corks, it's something that you're likely to come across now and then.

If you open a bottle and it smells and tastes like wet cardboard, don't immediately assume that it's just a terrible wine - that bottle could be corked! If it was a wine that you were looking forward to trying, give that winery another shot. Some retail shops even let you bring a corked bottle back and exchange it for another one. This isn't legal in all areas, so make sure you know what your store's return policies are before you try that out.

One important side note that people often don't think about when they're drinking is what they do with the cork in a bottle that they're saving for later. Often times you'll see somebody saving a bottle - sticking it in their fridge or on their counter - and it looks like this: you see the red, wine-soaked side of the cork sticking up. When you take a cork out of a bottle, the end that was already in the bottle is fatter, so it's much easier to turn the cork around to stick it back in the bottle for later consumption.

The problem here is one side of the cork could have TCA on it while the other side doesn't. And if you're bottle is fine, then you know that the side of the cork that was already touching the wine is good. If you turn that cork around and stuff it back in the bottle, you could end up spoiling the bottle and you won't find out until the next day when you pop the cork again and try to have another glass.

So even though it can be sometimes tougher to jam that same end back down into the bottle, I strongly recommend doing it. That way you make sure you don't end up ruining your wine, and you can drink the whole bottle until it's gone.

You can ruin a bottle by putting the cork back in the wrong way.

You can ruin a bottle by putting the cork back in the wrong way.

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