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Dear Dr. Vinny,
A reader recently asked if he should drink a wine if he "smells the cork and it's corky." I was surprised you advised him to throw out the wine. I had always thought you can't tell anything about a wine by just smelling the cork. Is that not correct?
—Jeff M., Washington, D.C.
If a wine is "corky"—that is, tainted with TCA (the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole)—it will be muted at best and undrinkable at worst, and in any case, it won't be representative of what the wine should truly be. In many (but not all) cases, TCA taint is caused by a faulty cork, and the cork itself may reveal the tell-tale notes of musty, damp cellars and wet newspapers.
However, sometimes the wine is tainted but the cork is not affected, so you should be sure to check the wine itself before deciding whether it's sound or not. In other words, the cork may smell OK even if the wine is bad, but if the cork smells rank, it's a warning sign (not a guarantee) that the wine may no longer be good. In any case, always smell and taste the wine for yourself before deciding—don't throw it out simply based on the smell of the cork.
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