Could my wines be getting TCA from my cellar?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

We have noticed a high volume of corked wines in our cellar. They range from all years and varietals, Old World and New. The temperature in the cellar is a pretty consistent 50° to 60° F. A sommelier friend of ours mentioned that it could be some sort of fungus that is infecting the bottles. What do you think?

—John C., Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Dear John,

I’m going to guess that your friend was trying to explain that when a wine is described as “corky,” that means it is showing the presence of a compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA. It’s not exactly a fungus: It’s created by an interaction of mold, chlorine and phenols (which are organic compounds found in all plants). Storage conditions like temperature don’t come into play in the creation of TCA.

When wines have TCA or are described as “corky,” they come across as musty and dank and can smell moldy or like wet dogs. Drinking them can be unpleasant, but it’s not harmful.

Because TCA involves phenolics, that means it can develop in plant materials like corks, but it can also originate in cardboard boxes or wooden parts of wineries. Even though entire wineries can be contaminated with TCA, it’s usually because there is a lot of unbottled wine that can come in contact with the compound. It’s much less likely that a sealed bottle of contaminated wine can spread to another sealed bottle of uncontaminated wine.

I’m not sure why you might suddenly be experiencing more corky wines. If you’re opening bottle after bottle, make sure to properly rinse your glass in between servings—TCA can certainly linger. Sometimes you just hit a streak of bad luck.

—Dr. Vinny

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