What is cork taint

Cork taint is primarily produced by fungi and can ruin wine in very low doses.

  • I rate Cork Taint in four stages as it increases in concentration:
  • at very low levels it simply masks the fruit of the wine, turning a wine that should be quite spectacular into a very ordinary wine.
  • at medium levels it can have a bit of a wet cardboard smell.
  • at high levels it smells like the soil of a good fertile pot plant.
  • at very high levels it smells mouldy like a damp and mouldy cellar.
  • Cork taint is primarily caused by the 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) molecule. Most of us can detect TCA at levels around 6 parts per trillion but some people can detect it at levels as low as 0.5 parts per trillion! That little bit in the middle of its name gives a hint to its makeup “… chloro…” So eliminating Chlorine reduces the chance of TCA contamination significantly.

By far the largest contributor of TCA to wine is cork however TCA can come from the winery itself but when this happens it usually relates to an entire batch of bottling not just to random bottles.

So how does this chlorine contamination happen?
Certain fungi when exposed to chlorine and wood substances produce TCA, it can happen at any point of production. In previous times chlorinated products were used to control fungi and wood boring insects in the cork forests, it was also used by the manufacturers to bleach corks. In wineries chlorinated products were used to sterilize equipment as well as treating and protecting wineries from mould. And of course town water is a source due to public water chlorine treatment.

TCA has been an endemic problem in some very well known wineries and in some cases has required demolishing and completely rebuilding the winery to correct the problem.

So why use cork?
That is an on-going discussion with passionate arguments on either side. It is much too involving to include in this discussion of cork taint but I have included an interesting link to an article discussing this debate by Andrew Waterhouse, Professor of Enology, University of California, Davis which you can access by clicking here.

If you have managed to make it to the end of this diatribe… perhaps you will feel a little more comfortable rejecting a bottle when your waiter presents you with a bad smelling cork.

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