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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I found a pink cork in a bottle of white Zinfandel! Is that normal?
—Joan, Perkasie, Pa.
It’s not strange for the edge of a natural cork that’s in contact with wine to become stained. In my experience, darker wines with more pigment will leave a darker stain, so it's not unlikely that a rosé-style wine like a white Zinfandel would leave a pink stain.
But it is definitely unusual for an entire cork to be stained the color of the wine, or for the cork to be saturated with wine. If a cork is entirely stained—and especially if it’s soggy—it can be a sign that the cork did not have a good seal, and that can be a problem. If wine can get past the cork and the bottle is leaky, that means that air could possibly get into the bottle, causing it to become oxidized. It can also be a sign that the wine was exposed to heat.
And since it's not quite clear that you mean that the cork was stained pink by the wine, I should point out that synthetic corks—those plastic polymer– or bioplastic-based cork alternatives—come in just about every color of the rainbow. Some wineries have occasionally bottled wines with special limited-edition pink corks in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Sutter Home White Zinfandel has been bottled with a pink synthetic cork since 2001.
No matter what the reason for your pink cork, you really don’t know if something is amiss with the wine until you open the bottle and taste it.
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