Hello, hello, and here we go…
Last week, I had a guest on one of my tours ask me about a pricey wine they once opened that smelled like a wet dog that had been lost for a week or two. What they experienced was a wine suffering from “cork taint”. A wine with cork taint is often referred to as “corked” or “corky”.
So, what happened to this wine? Well, cork taint results from a faulty cork that creates a chemical compound called 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, which is also referred to as TCA, or 246-TCA. TCA is harmless, but even in small amounts will render a wine unpalatable. It is also indiscriminate; it doesn’t care if a wine cost ten dollars or two hundred.
TCA is created when naturally occurring air-borne molds are on the cork at harvest. These molds react to bleaching compounds that are used to process the cork, and the result is TCA.
Cork taint can be very extreme, or extremely subtle. In large amounts, the result is sickening; generating aromas of wet newspaper, cardboard, and yes, stinky dog. Moderate amounts smell dank, musty, and moldy. Slight amounts simply strip the wine of its fruity aromas and flavors, and we may just think it’s not a very good wine.
To add insult to injury, our nose is extraordinarily sensitive to TCA. We can perceive as little as 30 parts per trillion (yes, trillion), and some of us with really good sniffers can detect it as low as 5 ppt.
It is estimated that between 2-7% of all bottles are influenced by cork taint. This number sounds pretty accurate to me. Last month in California, I was judging about 110 wine a day, and we sent back an average of 3-5 each day due to TCA.
One of my saddest wine memories goes back to April, 2005. Kathy and I were celebrating our 25th anniversary in a cabin on the Frio River. I pulled the cork on a very expensive bottle of Napa Valley Dominus Cabernet (it was a gift) that we had saved a long time. Kathy looked at me from 20 feet away with a very sad look and said, “it’s corked, isn’t it!”. I tried a moment of denial, and then poured a 200 dollar bottle of wine down the drain.
Anyway, we’re kind of over it by now. We’ll see you next week, with some notes about our brand new 2015 Cuvee Blanc…