What is ‘Corked’ Wine and Can Stainless Steel Solve It

Wine expert or just wine lover, there seems to always be something new to learn about the wine world. There is so much variety in wine it is insane. Varieties of grapes, varieties of soil, varieties in fermentation techniques and containers. Knowing wine isn’t just about knowing what type of wine you like, where it comes from, whether it’s been aged in oak or stainless steel barrels, it’s also about knowing when to say ‘no’ to wine. More specifically, when to know when a wine is ‘corked.’

What is corked wine? It’s flawed or tainted.

I know what you’re thinking, “Tainted wine? No such thing, all wine is good!” But corked wine is contaminated with 2,4, 6-trichloranisole, or TCA, a contaminant caused by chlorine bleach meeting wood.

Now, most commonly, TCA infects a wine via the cork, hence the term “corked”. Cork is cleaned when it’s processed. But there’s plenty of opportunity to contaminate a wine throughout the production process, especially when there’s a lot of wood involved in the production process.

A wine can be contaminated via the oak barrel it comes into contact with, oak alternatives used in a tank, structures in the building. Even a screw-cap wine can be corked, from the production process or even from the screw-cap being contaminated during its own production.

And you don’t want to drink a noticeably corked wine, trust us. You can’t get sick, but, well if you smell a corked bottle of wine you’ll understand. Some describe it as a musty, wet dog or wet newspaper smell.

Tainted cork has been a thorn in the side of the wine industry for ages. The industry has tried to eliminate the issue with alternate closures and aging in stainless steel instead of wood, but there doesn’t seem to be a complete solution.

Experts estimate that at least five percent of all wine bottles are contaminated by varying amounts of TCA and a very small amount can infect an entire winery or batch. So, while we’d love to say that wines fermented or made in stainless steel wine barrels are immune, that is sadly not the case. Stainless steel wine barrels do, however, mitigate a few of the opportunities for wine to be contaminated by wood.