Can a cork-tainted bottle of wine cross-contaminate other bottles in my cellar?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have seen conflicting reports that a bottle of contaminated wine (corked, etc.) can cross-contaminate other bottles in a wine cellar. Is that true?

—Ted, Straight Talk podcast mailbag

Dear Ted,

Our first question from a Straight Talk with Wine Spectator podcast listener! For those who haven’t heard, you can hear my Dr. Vinny segment in every episode of our new podcast at WineSpectator.com/Podcast—it’s pretty fun!

Now onto listener Ted’s question, and some background: TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) is the chemical compound most frequently responsible for “corked” or “corky” wines, a flaw characterized by muted, musty or moldy aromas in wine. And yes, it can be airborne, and can become endemic in wine production facilities, but a sealed, tainted bottle is very unlikely to contaminate other bottles in a wine cellar.

I also checked in with Eric Hervé, Ph.D., who works at Napa’s ETS Laboratories, which is a great resource for wineries and podcasting wine advice columnists alike. Among ETS’ many services is measuring airborne TCA particles using “atmosphere traps” to assess contamination risks/levels.

But that’s not to say that TCA can easily travel from bottle to bottle. When wine or corks are contaminated by TCA, it usually occurs prior to the bottling process. “Bottled wine is very well-protected from airborne contaminants,” said Hervé. “Glass and the various types of closures are efficient barriers.”

Hervé added that if a bottle of wine is stored in a contaminated environment, the bottles themselves might take on a moldy scent (absorbed by the label or capsule), which could be a turn-off even if the wine within remains completely fine. The good news, my fellow doctor said, is that, unlike apples, a few flawed bottles in the cellar won’t spoil the bunch.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny wine-flaws aging-wine cellars corks storage tca

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