While a fine wine can enhance nearly any meal or social gathering, tainted wine can instantly sour the moment, as it upsets your palate and leaves a foul taste lingering in your mouth. Wine can become tainted for many reasons, including faulty production processes, improper storage conditions and contact with certain bacteria and/or fungi.
However, although wine can be less than perfect for a number of reasons, the number one single reason that wine becomes tainted is cork taint. In fact, between 2 and 5 percent of all wine suffers from cork taint, which translates to about $650 million dollars lost each year due to spoiled wine.
Cork taint describes wine that has been spoiled due to the presence of trichloroanisole (TCA) in the cork. Because both wine and cork are organic materials, they are susceptible to fungi such as TCA. Once wine comes into contact with TCA, it is irreversibly ruined.
How TCA Affects Corks
Wine is a complex beverage that results from a series of chemical processes. As such, the final product of wine itself contains a number of sensitive chemical compounds that can react with environmental elements. While some of these reactions don”t upset the character of wine, as they will naturally occur as wine ages, others can ruin wine, making it completely unpalatable.
Trichloroanisole is one such factor that offsets the proper development of wine. While this airborne fungus can infiltrate cork wood before it is even processed for use as wine bottle stoppers, modern industrial plants can also breed this fungus, as it may be a byproduct of pesticides, preservatives and chlorine bleaches used to sterilize corks.
Once a cork has been infected with TCA, the wine is sure to be tainted. Most people associate the aroma and flavor of corked wine to:
- a damp basement
- a dirty dog
- wet cement.
Other Ways TCA Can Taint Wine
While the cork is the primary manner in which TCA infiltrates and spoils wine, this fungus can also affect wine in steps of the winemaking process. In fact, because TCA is a fungus that infects wood and rubber, and because different types of wood are used throughout the winemaking process, at each step wine comes into contact with wood, it is at risk of being ruined by TCA.
Other ways in which TCA can affect wine occur when wine comes into contact with:
- drains through which infected wine has passed
- rubber hoses
- wood barrels
- wood beams in wine cellars.
Once a wine manufacturer becomes aware that his wine is spoiling due to TCA, identifying the source of this fungus is key to eradicating it and saving his wine. If, however, TCA is allowed to persist unchecked for extended periods of time, it can end up affecting an entire winemaking plant, causing the need for a total revamping with clean, uninfected wood.
For this reason, some modern winemakers have switched to stainless steel barrels, pipes and other fixtures to prevent TCA from roosting in their winemaking facilities. Similarly, some have permanently switched to using rubber corks or screw tops to reduce the amount of wine spoilage that occurs due to TCA infection.
Preventing TCA and Cork Taint
When you purchase a bottle of wine, it”s nearly impossible for you to know whether or not that wine has cork taint. In fact, the only way you can determine whether or not cork taint is present in a particular bottle of wine is upon smelling and/or tasting it. Because a foul taste will linger longer than a rancid smell, experts recommend that you always smell the cork of wine before tasting it.
If you detect a dank, musty aroma, then the wine has likely experienced cork taint. Unfortunately, once this has occurred, the wine is ruined and must be discarded.
For those who want to totally avoid cork taint, buying wine stopped with rubber corks or screw tops is the best bet.