The many faces of Cork Taint

Photo by VinologueIn wine circles, some of the most annoying people I’ve run in to are the, “corkers” who are those people that always feel that they must one-up everyone else in the room by declaring boldly, “Corked!” when tasting a wine. In general, they’re correct and the seal of the wine has indeed failed in some way. But, there are leagues of difference in how failed a wine can be (especially when compared to our 404 page which is only fail).

I’ve seen this when in Istria, Croatia when a local bottle was opened at a wine bar which everyone took one whiff of and as a whole we collectively tossed out our glasses as the wine was nothing short of toxic vinegar. Then the other night at home, I opened up a bottle from a great producer in Empordà, Catalonia and could visibly see that the cork was flawed. Despite this and while not optimal, the wine was still drinkable and fine with a meal. Because really, with a cork closure, it’s only a matter of time before it fails and your job as the drinker is to try and suck it down before that happens.

For those reading this and wondering, “I always hear this, but what the fuck is a corked wine like?!!” it’s generally defined as having an odor of wet cardboard and all the fruit in the body has dropped out. Smell a lot of sulfur and think it’s corked? Possibly, but not necessarily. It helps a great deal to understand this if someone guides you through the first one, or if you compare a good bottle with one that has TCA (the technical word for “corked” or “cork taint”). But again, this is all over the map and I want to put forth something of a scale to rate the level of corkedness:

  1. Minor defects that would be hard for the general drinker to notice and is otherwise good, but should be consumed quickly, which generally isn’t a problem with wine, right?
  2. More defects show up that lead to a less than desirable finish and other notes that seem off, especially when compared to another bottle without an defects, although after the first glass, it seems just dandy…
  3. Easy to detect problems and if in a restaurant, it should be sent back as it could also be cooked due to being stored above the stove hood or some other idiotic place. If it’s a bottle at home, it can be had with a meal because hey, tossing out wine is hard to do.
  4. It’s a stinker. No matter how hard you try, it would be rough to drink and the fruit and depth of the wine is so absent, it’s not doing the cellar any service to choke it down and think of it as representative of their wines. Toss it or attempt to make balsamic vinegar if you’re crafty.
  5. Horrid. You wouldn’t wash your dog’s butt with it if you had a dog and were inclined to wash its butt and using wine nonetheless. Toss it, don’t pass go, and probably don’t shop wherever you bought it because something ain’t right ’bout that place.