Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Can a TCA-tainted wine infect other wines in the cellar?
—Mike, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Just so that everyone is up to speed, TCA, or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is a compound that can cause wine’s flavors to be muted and to smell musty or moldy, like cardboard, wet cement or damp newspapers. It’s the most common cause of flawed wines that you’ve probably heard described as “corked.”
TCA isn’t harmful to drink, but it can ruin a wine. It’s created when plant phenols, like those in corks or in oak barrels, come into contact with chlorine, and phasing out chlorine-based cleaning products and sanitizers has helped reduce instances of TCA.
It’s not entirely clear how well TCA travels, but I found some research from the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) that might be helpful. TCA does absorb into a cork when exposed to a TCA environment. So, say, if you have a single TCA-infected cork stored with a bunch of other corks, it’s pretty likely that the other corks will pick up TCA.
Another AWRI study, however, showed that when TCA is applied to the surface of a cork in a sealed bottle of wine, the TCA does not migrate through the cork into the wine, so it’s unlikely that TCA from one bottle of wine in your cellar will infect other bottles alongside it.