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,
I found some long-forgotten wine bottles, and the corks are pushed halfway out. Is the wine still good?
—Ruth, Detroit, Mich.
A slightly protruding cork could simply be a matter of how the cork was seated in the bottle. But what you’re describing—with the corks sticking out that much—sounds like something went wrong.
Most likely the wine was exposed to excessive heat or cold—more on that in a minute. Or the corks could be faulty (not inserted properly or dried-out), or the wine may have started to re-ferment inside the bottle, a byproduct of which is carbon dioxide gas which can put pressure on the cork from the inside.
The most likely culprits of pushed-out corks are temperature-related. When wine gets hot, the pressure inside the bottle increases, causing the wine to push against the cork from the inside and also sometimes to seep out around the edges of the cork.
When wine gets too cold, its water content can start to freeze, causing it to crystalize and expand, which can also push out the cork.
Regardless of whether the wines got too hot, too cold, had a faulty corks or re-fermented in the bottles, it’s unlikely they’ll be showing well (but they’re still safe to taste). But the funny thing about wine is that there’s also a chance that the wine is perfectly fine. Either way, you won’t know until you taste it.
You might even be able to make a game of identifying what happened to the wines. In a wine overexposed to heat, the fruit flavors can taste cooked or stewed as opposed to fresh; if the wine tastes oxidized and nutty, then that means that too much oxygen has gotten into the bottle due to a faulty cork or the cork being pushed out so far that air was able to come in; if the wine is spritzy, it may have re-fermented in the bottle.