How Can I tell if My Wine is Corked?

Many people believe that this fault occurs when the sometimes fragile natural cork in their bottle  breaks when being removed, or pieces get into the wine itself. This is not so, the wine is often still perfectly drinkable unless the seal has failed.

The wine will immediately smell ‘off’ if the wine is corked. You can ‘rescue’ your wine if pieces of cork have got into it by pouring it through a sieve or decanting. Keeping a naturally corked bottle on its side is a good idea, as the wine will remain  in contact with it,and the cork will stay moist and pliable. Protecting the bottle from extremes of temperature, which causes the cork to expand and contract frequently, also helps.

You may wonder why many wine makers still continue to use cork in an age of sterile, airtight screw caps or plastic corks. The answer is because cork is a natural product from trees and is slightly porous. This allows a slight gaseous exchange between the wine and the outside air. Many feel this imparts pleasant qualities in the wine that would  otherwise not take place if the bottle was airtight. This is especially true of wines intended for bottle ageing and laying down after purchase, where ‘controlled oxidation’ is desirable. Oxygen from the air helps soften the wine and develop tertiary characteristics (flavours like forest floor, leather and spice etc).


The term ‘corked’ actually refers to cork taint, and is a chemical reaction that happens in a very small percentage of wines (usually around 5%). It is  a result of fungal action naturally found within the cork.  The excretions of the fungi react with the wine to form TCA- Trichloroanisole to give it its technical name. This can be detected by a musty, wet cardboard odour when you open the bottle, which overpowers any other aroma/flavour. In this instance the wine should not be drunk.

If this does happen to you, don’t pour your wine away. Often you can return it to your retailer who will let you exchange it as they can usually claim back from the supplier. Many winemakers/suppliers accept this fault in the grand scheme of things, because as I explained above, it is important in making their wine distinctive and enjoyable. Hopefully it won’t put you off the same wine or maker. You’ve just been in the unlucky 5% of buyers this time. If only the lottery jackpot odds were this good…