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For wine lovers, there’s nothing worse than cracking open a bottle only to find out it’s corked. But what’s even worse? Not being able to tell if it’s corked or not and not having the experience to send it back confidently. This unfortunate occurrence, known as cork taint, can ruin the experience of even the finest wines. While we can’t give you a sniff or taste test for corked wine, we can drop a few hints on how to identify it.

How to Tell If the Wine is Corked? Image of the bottleWhat is corked wine?

Corked wine refers to a bottle of wine that has been contaminated by a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), which is often present in natural cork.

When wine comes into contact with TCA, it produces an unpleasant odour and taste, robbing the wine of its intended flavours and aromas.

Corked wine doesn’t have anything to do with actual cork damage. If your cork is broken, discoloured, snapped, or missing – this doesn’t mean that your wine is corked! Also, most cases of corked wine happen with natural cork in the bottle, so if your bottle uses a screw cap, sugar cane or any other type of cork – you are probably fine!

Can white wine be corked?

Cork taint can affect any wine, including red, white, sparkling and port wines. While the term “corked” is more commonly associated with red wine, it can occur in any wine. The musty or mouldy aroma and the muted or flat taste associated with cork taint can impact the flavour profile of white or sparkling wine just as it does with red wine.

How to avoid corked wine?

Opt for wines sealed with screw caps, Diam corks, sugar cane or synthetic corks instead of natural cork, as these alternatives significantly reduce the risk of cork taint. With natural cork no one is safe!

Did you know that 99 bottles out of every 100 produced by Australian wineries are sealed with a screwcap? Even premium producers, like Yarra Yering are using screwcaps these days.

How do you know if wine is corked?

Recognising corked wine isn’t always straightforward, but there are distinct indicators to look out for. The most common signs include a musty or mouldy aroma resembling wet cardboard or a damp basement. Additionally, the wine may taste flat, muted, or lacking in fruitiness.

Often, if you have doubts about the wine and it doesn’t smell of any fruit – it is corked. When the wine is just slightly corked, it can still be drinkable, even though it won’t be at its best. In severe cases, corked wine can exhibit astringent or bitter flavours, overshadowing any other characteristics and making it simply undrinkable.

What does corked wine taste like?

Describing the taste of corked wine can be subjective, but it’s often characterised by a lack of vibrancy, fruitiness and clarity in flavours. Instead of the wine’s intended bouquet of fruits, spices, or florals, you might detect off-putting notes reminiscent of wet newspaper or soggy cardboard. The wine’s texture may also feel dull and lifeless on the palate, lacking the usual depth and complexity.

How to Tell If the Wine is Corked?

Can you drink corked wine?

While drinking corked wine won’t cause harm, except for damage to your reputation in case you have wine-snobby friends, it’s certainly not an enjoyable experience for most.

The presence of TCA significantly diminishes the wine’s quality, rendering it far from its intended taste profile. However, some people may have a higher tolerance for cork taint and might still find the wine drinkable, albeit lacking in pleasure.

How to tell if a wine is corked?

  1. Sniff test: Before pouring a glass, give the wine a quick sniff. If you detect any unpleasant aromas reminiscent of wet cardboard, mould, or damp basement, chances are the wine is corked.
  2. Visual examination: Inspect the wine itself. If the wine appears discoloured or cloudy, it might be a sign of spoilage, albeit that’s not normally the case with corked wine.
  3. Taste test: Take a small sip and swirl the wine in your mouth. Pay attention to the flavours and textures. If you notice any muted or off-putting tastes, such as a lack of fruitiness or a harsh bitterness, the wine could be corked.
  4. Comparison: If you’re unsure whether a wine is corked, compare it to another bottle of the same wine or similar varietal. If the suspect bottle lacks the vibrancy and complexity you’d expect, it might be corked.
  5. Trust your instincts: Ultimately, trust your senses. If something seems off or doesn’t align with your expectations of the wine, it’s better to err on the side of caution and assume it’s corked. We always use the ‘Lack of enjoyment’ as the ultimate test. If instead of drinking the wine and enjoying your evening, you start analysing it, sniffing it, and doubting it, it is likely that something is wrong with it!

What to do if you are in a bar and you think your bottle is corked?

  • Politely express your concern: Approach the bartender or server calmly and discreetly. Express your suspicion that the wine may be corked without making accusatory statements. Simply state that you believe there might be an issue with the wine.
  • Request assistance: Ask the bartender or server to verify the condition of the wine. They may taste it themselves or provide a fresh bottle for comparison. Depending on the type of venue, this could be a tricky part. If you are in a bar, bartenders often won’t always know how to detect corked wine, so you may have to be bold and insist that it is corked. Be prepared to explain the characteristics you noticed that led you to believe the wine was faulty.
  • Remain courteous: Regardless of the outcome, maintain a polite demeanour. Mistakes happen, and how you handle the situation reflects on your character. Being understanding will ensure a positive experience for yourself and the staff. After all, you could be wrong as well!
  • Accept the resolution: If the bartender or server confirms the wine is corked and offers a replacement or alternative, graciously accept it. Thank them for their assistance and continue to enjoy your time at the bar. Don’t feel bad about that, as if the bottle is corked, they can send it back to the supplier and get a replacement.

Have a question about corked wine?

Have a burning question about corked wine? Drop it in the comments below, and our wine expert will provide you with the answers you need! Remember, when it comes to wine, no question is too small or too silly.

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