what is corked wine

09.14.20  \\\  Posted by Cellars Wine of the Month Club  \\\  Wine 101

We've all heard of corked wine, but you may not know if you've ever actually encountered it. Corked wine is wine tainted by TCA, a compound that makes it taste and smell less than pleasant. Basically, a corked wine will smell and taste something like a wet dog, wet cardboard, wet newspaper, and even Grandma's basement...curious to know more? Keep reading!

What is a corked wine?

A wine is corked when a chemical product known as TCA is produced by little airborne fungi and bacteria that comes in contact with chlorine and phenolic compounds. The most common way to build TCA comes from cork manufacturing when fungus reacts to a conventional plant fungicide that contains chlorine. Unfortunately, about 2% to 5% of the corks have a proportion of TCA, so the chances are that an average consumer gets about 100 corked bottles in their life. Is corked wine safe to drink? Yes, Absolutely! It is completely harmless for the health, it only really dampens the mood by ruining your chosen bottle.

What does a Corked Wine Smell Like?

When it comes to corked wine, we cannot blame wine consumers for lack of creativity. There are hundreds of different aromatic descriptors used to call on corked wine. Here's a list of some of them:

  • Wet cloth
  • Wet Dog
  • Wet Cardboard
  • Wet Newspaper
  • Wet forest
  • Wet sponge
  • Musty
  • Grandma's Basement 

It is also essential to keep in mind that when a wine has low TCA levels, it might not stink, but it will just have no fruit and floral smells and very little flavor instead. You might think the wine was just dull.

Corked Wine Checklist

-Check the wine has a real cork, as screw caps do not produce TCA

-Smell the wine:

When wine is corked, it will have aromas and flavors that you wouldn't expect from a good wine. Does it remind you of dank towels, wet dog, wet cardboard, or newspaper? Then it is definitely corked.

Does it feel dull or boring? Can't you find many fruit aromatics? Then maybe, it can be corked.

Have you had that wine before, and it feels a bit off? Trust your instinct! If you feel like a familiar wine does not taste familiar anymore, then there might be something off.

-Taste the wine

When you sip the wine, a corked wine will taste flat and dull, showing no fruit characteristics. For some people, it also might taste astringent.


PRO TIP: It's harder to sniff out a corked red wine than a corked white wine.


Avoid confusing corked wine with other problems.

If the wine seems a bit off to you, don't directly assume that it must be corked. There may be other culprits that have ruined the taste of your wine.

If the wine tastes flat and lifeless, and even a bit vinegary, it might be exposed to oxygen. The color of the wine (if it is white) will also have changed to a dull yellow or brownish color. 

If the wine tastes reminiscent of almonds or candied fruits, and the cork seems pushed out, it might have been overheated during transport or storage, and it is maderized. 

If it tastes fizzy (when it isn't supposed to), it is also possible that the wine has refermented.

If the wine has some little white crystals, it is not corked. These crystals are called tartrates and are a natural by-product of some wines and have no negative impact in wine, other than a visual distraction.

How to handle corked wine?

If you are buying wine in a restaurant, you can always send it back, or kindly ask one of the service staff to confirm. You are paying to enjoy yourself, and they are there to make that easy for you. If you ordered the wine online, save your receipts. Many online retailers will happily refund you or send you a fresh bottle.

Subscribe to our wines club. Along with this, we encourage you to indulge in our red winespremium wineswest coast wines90 plus point wines and more. Be sure to view our entire list of monthly wine clubs.