Is it OK to drink wine if the cork crumbles and pieces fall into the wine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is it OK to drink wine if the cork crumbles and pieces fall into the wine?

—Jackie, St. Louis, Mo.

Dear Jackie,

It’s perfectly OK (though perhaps unpleasant) to drink wine with some cork bits floating in it. Unfortunately, this experience is not particularly uncommon when drinking wine sealed with a natural cork, especially with older wines. Natural corks are punched out from the bark of cork oaks, so they’re biodegradable organic material, which means that they do decompose over time.

There are other reasons that corks might crumble: They might have been improperly punched out, or inserted imperfectly. Or the wine may have been stored in overly dry conditions or with the bottle standing upright, causing the cork to dry out. I definitely find that corks that are more than 10 years old need more care when being removed.

If you think a cork might be delicate or in danger of crumbling, here are a few things to remember: A waiter’s key–style corkscrew will give you more control with the extraction; those winged corkscrews are more prone to shredding corks. Insert the worm (that’s the spirally thing) directly into the center of the cork and screw it in carefully; then use the leverage to pull the cork out very slowly—if the cork appears to be breaking or cracking, you can try to reset the worm and go again. Ah-so and Durand openers are even better at preserving corks intact, but they require some practice.

If you do end up with some bits of cork floating in a wineglass, you can filter them out with a fine strainer, cheesecloth or coffee filter.

—Dr. Vinny

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