LearnHow to spot a corked wine
how to spot a corked wine

How to spot a corked wine

What does a corked wine really means?

There are a few different faults that can affect your vino. Perhaps the most well known is a corked wine. This is a real problem for consumer and producer alike and lots of you will surely have come across it in your wine exploits over the years.

For those looking to understand some more, this entry will focus on explaining the causes of corked wine, how to spot a corked wine, whether it is safe for drinking, and finally wrapping up with what to do with any corked bottles.

Corked Wine Culprit

So first up, what’s to blame? If you’re a bit of a wine geek like me, then you’ll like this part! There is a sliver of science here, so if this brings back sore memories from school then avert your eyes now.

The main thing is to know what you’re dealing with. TCA, or to give the compound its full name: 2,4,6 – trichloroanisole is the guilty party. TCA is created when certain substances come into contact with one another, and it is this compound, when present in a natural cork, that causes such problems for the wine industry.

At least 2% of all the corks in the world are tainted with this compound so it’s something that can happen either with a £5 Pinot Grigio from the supermarket or with a very expensive Burgundy – TCA is not selective, it can be present in any natural cork all around the world!

One of the main exceptions to this rule is using DIAM® corks; using a unique DIAMANT® process, these corks ensure sensorial neutrality, freed from the molecules causing organoleptic issues including TCA. At Stanlake Park, our winemaker Nico uses only this brand of corks, which guarantees each single bottle to our customers!

Detecting a wine that is corked

What is probably the most useful thing for you to know as the consumer is how to spot a corked wine. If you happen to be the go-to person in your group for wines, then it often falls to you to make the decisions on what to buy and also to test wines at restaurants.

The main pointer to keep in mind is that you can often identify a wine that is corked if it smells of wet dog or wet cardboard. If you get this whiff when taking a sniff, then stop right there!

Dog owners, you might be at an advantage here too. If your canine companion likes to take a swim during walkies, and if you’re feeling brave, then maybe give it a smell after and you’ll know what to look for. What a fun experiment!

Another tip is to smell the cork: if it smells like “wine”, no matter which fruit descriptor you would like to choose, then the wine is probably fine. But if it smells like “cork” or wet cardboard, then there might be a problem there.

Only natural corks can be corked. In this picture, the only natural cork is the one on top, coloured by the red wine – the other four are plastic closures, not real cork.
A cork that brittles is not a corked wine!

Something very important to remember: a wine is not necessarily corked if the cork brittles when you are opening the bottle, as these are two different issues.

A cork can break as the result of a bad opening technique, wrong use of the corkscrew, the cork is too old or the bottle was stored incorrectly. In fact, when a bottle of wine is left upright, with the wine level far away from the cork, this can begin to go dry and brittle, leading to small pieces of the cork crumbling off and floating around in your glass. 

Even if the cork crumbles, there’s probably nothing wrong with the wine so you can drink it safely (after removing those bits though!). 

To avoid those issues, remember to store horizontally your bottles, so the wine is always in contact with the cork and it doesn’t dry out. Using a professional corkscrew also helps. 

Remember that closures different than natural cork, like the plastic ones in the picture, can’t be corked or brittle, although they have several disadvantages when it comes to store the wine – but that is the subject of another blog!

Is corked wine bad for my health?

For anyone who may be concerned regarding health factors, it is safe to drink corked wines. However, of course, the experience probably won’t be particularly good, so there’s not much point in persevering.

What to do with a corked wine

No need to carry on drinking. You should just be able to return it. Tell your waiter, or take it back to the store, they will all replace your bottle. Don’t suffer through a faulty wine when there’s so much good stuff to drink.

With a little luck you will mostly avoid this issue and others. But if you do find yourself in front of a suspect wine, you now know how to check if a wine is corked, and what to do with any problem bottles. Remember, with Stanlake Park’s corks, cork taint will never be an issue!

Wine lover working in viticulture, enjoys reading classic books and staying in shape.