If you've ever had a wine that just didn't smell or taste quite the way you expected, or a wine that just didn't taste right, the problem may not be your palate. The wine could be "corked" or tainted with a chemical compound that the wine maker never intended to get into the bottle called "TCA".
The wine is definitely safe to drink, it just may not taste how it's supposed to. Here's what to look for — or smell for — to help you determine if a wine is corked when you open it.
TCA, or Trichloroanisole, is a natural byproduct from a common airborne fungus when it comes in contact with some kind of chlorinated chemical or compound. Sometimes that interaction takes place in the cork that goes into wine bottles and if it does, TCA can — depending on its concentration — dramatically change the taste of a wine or just obscure and overwhelm some of the subtle flavours that the winemaker intended you to enjoy.
Patrick Cappiello, Wine Director at GILT Restaurant, explains in this video from Serious Eats how you can tell if a wine you're just opened is corked. Give the wine a good smell (hopefully you're smelling your wine anyway), and if you detect something that reminds you of damp cardboard or a musty old jumper, your wine may be corked. If you're drinking in a restaurant, you can always let the waiter know and they'll usually bring you a glass from a fresh bottle. If it's really bad and you're drinking at home, it might be a good time to open a different bottle.
Just be sure that you're not claiming a bottle is corked just to get a free glass — or replacement bottle — of wine and if you're being served by a sommelier, let them know your suspicion and ask them if the wine is corked before you assert it. Are you able to identify a corked wine, or are you not paying that much attention to your glass? Let us know in the comments below.
Wine Protips Video: How To Tell If Your Wine is Corked [Serious Eats]