In an ideal world, you would never have to worry about your wine tasting like cork.
Of course, cork is a popular Italian wine bottle sealant, so the possibility of cork getting into the wine is often there. But in most cases, the cork never comes into contact with the wine itself, which means it never affects the taste.
Notice that we said “most” cases there.
The sad fact is that cork taint is a problem that many Italian wine drinkers will have to deal with at some point in their lives.
What can you do about it?
Nobody wants to have to force down an Italian wine that tastes like cork. But as it happens, there may be a solution to the problem that you can find inside one of your kitchen drawers.
We’ll get to that in a moment.
First, let’s dig a little deeper into what cork taint is and how it happens.
What is Cork Taint?
As you have likely already guessed, cork taint most often occurs when some cork breaks away and falls into your wine. In some cases, that cork may sit in the wine for years, altering its taste to the point where the wine may become undrinkable.
The real question is why can cork have such a drastic effect on the taste of wine?
And the answer lies in a chemical called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, which is often shortened to TCA.
TCA forms inside the tree bark used to make cork. However, it requires a certain set of conditions to form. Typically, TCA occurs when the fungi, mould, or some types of bacteria in the bark get mixed with chemical fungicides and insecticides, specifically those containing halophenols.
Used commonly from the 1950s through to the 1980s, these particular chemicals succeeded in killing a lot of the nasty stuff in tree bark for quite a while. But eventually, certain strains of fungus developed a novel way to deal with halophenols. They began releasing a chemical that lead to the halophenols having no effect on the fungus. The resulting chemical reaction creates TCA.
Of course, many wine producers got the cork they used to seal their bottles from trees that had been sprayed with fungicides. Ironically, any tree bark that actually contained fungus ended up being at risk of creating TCA.
The resulting cork would damage any wine that it touched.
So, cork taint isn’t really a product of natural and unadulterated cork. Instead, it’s a product of human interference with trees leading to chemical reactions that change the properties of the cork used.
How Do I Know If My Italian Wine is Tainted?
Smell, or rather the lack of smell, is your first clue that something is wrong with your wine.
A wine that has cork taint will typically have a much more muted bouquet than you may expect. The notes the wine should offer fall into the background, often being replaced by unpleasant notes that call to mind a wet dog or a musty basement. These unpleasant smells only tend to appear when the cork taint is severely ingrained. As such, it’s easy to miss mild cork taint, especially if you’re drinking a wine you haven’t tried before and don’t recognise the muting of the wine’s aroma.
Of course, those who fail to spot the tell-tale olfactory signs will soon discover the cork taint once they taste the wine.
Drinking wine afflicted by cork taint can best be described as drinking a fruity liquid mould. You will soon find your tongue awash with an unpleasant musty and damp flavour that will likely make you want to spit the wine out.
Some estimates state that cork taint affects anywhere between 3% and 6% of wines. So, a regular wine drinker is very likely to come across it at some point in their life. And sadly, the most common solution to dealing with cork taint is to simply throw the wine away and open another bottle.
However, recent studies have shown us that there’s another potential solution that you may be able to try!
Getting Rid of Cork Taint – The Novel Solution
In 2020, French scientists conducted a study searching for ways to remove cork taint from wine.
And they may have found an answer:
It turns out that the clingfilm that almost every home has in its kitchen is capable of removing TCA from a liquid. In fact, prolonged exposure to clingfilm can remove as much as 82% of TCA molecules from a wine.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you can just pull up some clingfilm, put it in a glass, and become free of cork taint. The researchers say that you need a specific type of clingfilm, made using synthetic polymers, to get the job done. And they didn’t say which brands of clingfilm contain those polymers and which don’t.
Still, that doesn’t mean that the study isn’t of use to the wine industry.
It’s possible that the results may be used by winemakers to construct a type of clingfilm, or another type of plastic made using the polymers, to eliminate cork taint during the production process. Perhaps we may even see these polymers used to create implements that could be placed inside a bottle to get rid of the taint.
Only time will tell.
The biggest barrier to this type of solution lies in weighing up the pros against the cons. Any such solution would require a substantial investment to solve a problem that affects as little as 3% of wines. Whether that’s worth the effort for winemakers will depend on how deeply such a solution would eat into their profit margins.
The Final Word
So, is there anything that you can do about cork taint in the glass of wine you hold in your hands?
Well, you could try the clingfilm solution. But without the appropriate synthetic polymers, that may not work. And the sad truth is that there are no other ways to remove the corky taint.
Still, this is a problem that affects a distinct minority of wines. It’s also a problem that only affects corked wines, which means sticking with wines that have screw caps solves the problem. Unfortunately, it seems like cork taint is just something we have to live with until science comes up with a way to commercialise the results of the above study.
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