How do you recognize cork taint in sparkling wine?

Ask Dr Vinny

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,

One of our customers refused a bottle of Prosecco because of cork taint. Could you please explain cork taint in sparkling wine?

—Gulfidan O., Izmir, Turkey

Dear Gulfidan,

Cork taint is the most common wine flaw. You may also hear people refer to these tainted wines as “corky” or “corked.” They are usually recognized by their moldy, musty aromas of wet cardboard, damp basement or mixing cement, all of which are caused by the presence of the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA. TCA is caused by the interaction of mold, chlorine and phenols, which are organic compounds found in plants. Since natural corks are made from the bark of cork oak trees, TCA can originate there. But TCA can also originate in other places, like cardboard cases, wooden barrels or pallets. TCA isn’t harmful, just unpleasant, blocking the olfactory channels that would otherwise allow you to enjoy a wine’s fresh fruit notes.

That musty aroma that indicates the presence of TCA should come across similarly whether the wine in question is red, white, sparkling or sweet.

Hopefully you gave your customer a replacement bottle. If you’re not familiar with what TCA smells like, you should have taken a whiff. Once you’ve smelled it, it’s much easier to identify it.

—Dr. Vinny

Wine Flaws TCA Sparkling Wines Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Once chilled, must a wine stay chilled? Is it ruined if it warms up again?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny debunks the myth that wine shouldn't be chilled and then …

Jun 27, 2022

Does Pinot Noir come in both red and white versions? Are they the same grape?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how red wines get their color. (Hint: It's not …

Jun 22, 2022

If you're supposed to hold a wineglass by the stem, why are stemless glasses so popular?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains the pros and cons of stemless …

Jun 13, 2022

How much do our taste buds influence our perception of wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains how taste sensitivity impacts our …

Jun 6, 2022

What's the shelf life of a box of wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert, Dr. Vinny, explains why box wines aren't meant to …

May 31, 2022

Should I refill my own wineglass, or ask the host or server to?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the etiquette or wine service, for hosts and for …

May 23, 2022