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Posted on Tue, Jul 21, 2009 : 6:28 p.m.

There is Hope for Corked Wine

By Eric Arsenault

If you drink wine, even just occasionally, chances are you've experienced what is known as a corked bottle. First a few things about what being corked means.Corked wines or wines with cork taint occur in a surprisingly high percentage of wines. Depending on the source, the figure is as low as 1% (if you work for the cork industry) and as high as 7% if you taste wine for a living. The source of this particular flaw is the detectable presence of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or TCA for short. While there are several ways TCA can materialize, it is usually formed when naturally occurring airborne fungi react with clorophenal compounds that are ironically created in the chlorine bleaching process used in sterilizing corks. What does all this have to with the wine? In cases of slight TCA taint, a wine merely loses the natural fruit aromas that define it's character. In high concentrations, TCA taint will make a wine smell of wet cardboard damp basement. Can't imagine this? Rip off a small section of cardboard, get it wet, then hold it to your nose and take a deep sniff. It is this smell that you should be looking for when you smell your wine (not your wine's cork) in a restaurant.

If your wine has one of these not so pleasant characteristics, you should NOT feel obligated to consume it. Explain to your server that your wine is flawed and that you'd like another bottle. Not sure, ask for their opinion if they are qualified or for that of a manager if they are not. Your wine retailer should also replace your tainted bottle. Do note, a wine with cork taint is not indicative of the quality of the wine - it's just an unlucky cork. The next bottle of the very same wine should be better. If your wine seems flawed in some other way (i.e. oxidized, overly acidic, or high in other fowl aromas), all the bottles in the lot may very likely contain the same flaw as these ARE due to improper handling or chemical flaws developed in the winemaking process. If your wine retailer is not completely helpful in replacing flawed bottles - find another retailer. I have heard plenty of horror stories regarding the improper handling of flawed bottles at the expense of the consumer's integrity and I think these people should be shipped to a very hot island prison where the only think to drink is flawed wine. If you've ever had an experience like this, comment on it. I'm interested.

There is good news. I have a trick that can salvage many corked wines. I must give credit to the man who first told me about it, Rick Sayer, winemaker for Rodney Strong Vineyards. In cases where your corked bottle happens to be irreplaceable, Saran Wrap may be your salvation. Not trying to push Saran Wrap brand by any means, but I have noticed this trick seems to work better with actual Saran Wrap than some of the generic plastic wraps - can't explain why. Rip off about 24" of wrap, roll it up a bit so it will fit into the wine bottle, slide it into the wine, recork with a different cork, shake it up gently so that the wrap unfolds inside the bottle, leave the bottle for 24 hours, then pour yourself a glass of wine. Now, in cases of extremely high TCA taint, this trick unfortunately won't perfom a miracle. But, in cases of mild to medium cork taint, the Saran Wrap somehow pulls the TCA out of the wine. I offer this only as a last option. As I said earlier, a good wine retailer should replace any and all bad bottles they've sold to you.

Have a wine question?Send it.

Eric Arsenault Certified Sommelier Director of Wine and Spirits Mainstreet Ventures, Inc.



Fri, Jan 15, 2010 : 2:03 p.m.

One question you ask about Saran Wrap -- why does it work better? Because Saran is made from a different plastic than the plastic used in other food wraps. It doesn't stick to the bowl as well, but provides a better barrier against moisture and odor migration. Useful for certain applications, but usually the extra expense makes it not worth it. I use a slightly different technique. I fanfold the Saran into a sort of accordion pleat and middle it through the eye of a long wire that I bent from stainless steel wire, I jam the other end of the wire into a different cork and insert the eye with the Saran down into the wine, and then recork. This makes it much easier to retrieve the Saran, and the Saran unfolds naturally without disturbing the sediment (important with old vintage ports) by agitating. Disclaimer: Saran is a trademark of Dow Chemical; my late father used to work for Dow before the mid-1960s.


Sat, Aug 1, 2009 : 9:52 p.m.

Interesting, extremely valuable tip that proves to be true!! Thanks for your reccomendation at The Chop House... the great service continues!!

Ron Sober

Tue, Jul 28, 2009 : 8:44 a.m.

very cool tip. I have never tried this, but will give it a go.