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,
A recent Petite Sirah smelled very musty and tasted slightly more acidic than it should have. I pronounced it “corked” as a result. What other things should I look for in a “corked” or “bad” bottle of wine?
—Bill M., Exton, Penn.
When we talk about a wine that is “corky” or “corked,” that means it is suffering from a chemical compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA. As you noted, the primary symptom is a musty odor, which sometimes reminds me of the smell of old books, wet cement or cardboard, or a dank basement. Corks can be the culprit, but TCA can also originate in cardboard cases or wooden pallets and entire wineries can be contaminated with it. There aren’t any health concerns if you drink it, just an unpleasant fact that your wine isn’t going to taste like it should.
Sometimes TCA presents itself with a gritty, aspirin-like, and even bitter edge, or has a whiff of chlorine to me. Even if those musty notes aren’t dominating, I’ve noticed TCA can dampen or strip a wine’s fruit flavors, and I imagine that’s why your wine’s acidity stuck out like it did.
As far as other flaws, some of the more common ones include finding a spritzy wine, which results from refermenting inside the bottle; smoke taint, if fires were a concern that vintage; overwhelming spicy, barnyard aromas of brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast; or a wine might smell like rotten eggs, which thankfully is often only a temporary problem from reduction.