Perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to a wine-lover is uncorking their exciting new bottle… and smelling not the beautiful bouquet of a much-anticipated wine, but the reek of wet dog hair. The phenomenon is known as corking, and Louisvale Wines has looked at it before, but it’s well worth revisiting again. Here’s everything you wish you didn’t have to know about corked wine, and what you can do about it.

Why does wine become corked?

What we’re calling ‘corked’ wine has a very distinctive smell wine-lovers fear. It’s a contamination that comes from the natural nature of cork. Think wet mould, wet newspaper, or a wet dog for an idea of the distinct (and off-putting) smell. 

Tiny airborne fungi make contact with the cork and nibble at it, creating a byproduct called TCA. This chemical compound will ruin any wine that comes into contact with it. It isn’t harmful to your health, so if you took a sip don’t worry, but it can be a wine-ruining experience. Don’t be afraid to return a corked bottle to where you got it! Absolutely no good winery, sommelier, or wine shop will refuse to take back a corked bottle. 

It only happens to a tiny percentage of wine, and only those corked with natural cork, so don’t let worry consume you. The catch-22 with corked wine is that TCA is needed in the wine-making process, too, but it should never make its way to the bottle.

What ISN’T corked wine?

As we mentioned, the TCA makes for a very distinctive taste and smell, and you can’t miss it. So if you have room to think ‘is my wine corked’, the answer is likely no. There could be something else wrong with it, however, including malicious tampering from someone around you, so never drink a wine you don’t trust. Good wine makers and purveyors will always want you to have a wonderful wine experience and will assist you if you’re unsure.

Here’s a few common wine situations that aren’t corking, however:

  • Pieces of cork floating in the bottle- this is unfortunate, as it indicates the cork has dried out a little, but isn’t harmful.
  • Little white crystals- called tartrate, this is a natural by-product of some types of wine, and it’s harmless.
  • A smelly cork- this isn’t a good thing, but it doesn’t mean the wine will be corked

It’s worth noting that synthetic cork and screw cap wines will never cork, so if there’s something strange about them, it’s not the presence of TCA.

Can corked wine be saved?

Interestingly, science is working on a way to remove TCA contamination from wine. The method that scientists from UC Davis believe will work involves wadding some plastic wrap and placing it and the wine into a clean pitcher. Leave the plastic wrap to soak in the wine for 15 minutes, and pour the wine away into a new container. Supposedly, the taint will stay with the plastic and save the wine. The catch is that it has to be a specific type of plastic called PVCD, and it’s hard to find in SA.

That’s a fascinating win for science, but the Louisvale Wine team think you’re far better off just ditching the corked wine and reaching for a new bottle of your favourite Cape Chardonnay! Life’s too short for bad wine, after all.