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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Can Port be corked? I would assume so, thought it must be much harder to detect.
—Teri G., Edmonton, Alberta
Oh, absolutely. TCA contamination and its “corky” notes that remind me of damp basements and wet cement can affect anything with a cork in it, including Port and Champagne. TCA (the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole) is not unique to wine—even spirits bottled with a cork are susceptible. If you’ve never tried a TCA-contaminated whisky, consider yourself lucky.
TCA is caused by the interaction of mold, chlorine and phenols, which are organic compounds found in plants. Natural corks are made from the bark of the cork oak tree, so TCA can develop in corks, which is why the terms “corky” and “corked” are used to describe TCA contamination.
As far as detection, I’m sensitive to TCA, and it haunts me even outside of wine. I’ve drunk water from TCA-infected water fountains, and have to stay away from those peeled baby carrots because they often taste familiarly musty to me. I’ve even been served corky cabbage slaw in a restaurant.
My theory is that people don’t often discuss TCA in Port and Champagne just because people tend to drink less Port and Champagne than other wines. It’s a simple numbers game—the more Port you drink, the more likely you are to come across a corky one.
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