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How to Tell if a Wine is Corked?

January 26, 2022 3 min read No Comments

I’m sure at some point you’ve seen someone or you’ve have opened a bottle of wine and smelled the cork – everything seemed find and then when you poured the wine into the glass it smelled like stinky socks. YUCK! Well in this blog I am going to go over how to tell if a wine is corked!

Borrowed from Wine Folly

What does “Corked” mean?

Cork is a natural product taken from trees – it is the bark from the cork tree, which is one of the only (to my knowledge) trees that has a “self healing” property and the cork bark will grow back if stripped correctly. However, since it is natural that means that no matter how many times you sanitize it, there is still a chance that some bacteria can build up, fester and then built up a “funk” to it. When a cork is tainted or a wine is “corked” is a chemical called Trichloroanisole or known in the biz as “TCA”. This chemical effects between 2-3% of bottles, which doesn’t sound it is too bad but if you are a regular wine drinker…or an enthusiastic wine drinker you’ll probably encounter about 100 bottles in your adult life – give or take.

How To Tell If Your Wine Is Corked

Now, if you’ve never had the unfortunate experience of smelling tainted wine it can be hard to understand what this smell is like firsthand, but once you’ve smelled it – trust me you’ll never forget it! One way to pick out whether or not a wine is corked, though, is to smell and taste it and try to pick out the notes you’ve come to expect from that wine style. If a wine typically smells fruit-forward, but you’re not picking up any fruit notes, you can be pretty confident that something’s not right.

bottles of wine with corks in cellar

How to Detect It

When there is A LOT of cork taint or TCA in your wine it is going to smell like:

  • Wet Cardboard
  • Wet Dog
  • Wet Newspaper
  • Basically anything gross and wet
  • Grandma’s basement or attic

If there is only a little cork taint or TCA in your wine it is going to smell like:

  • Dull (like lack of vibrant aromas)
  • Little to no or a burnt taste

Cork Taint (TCA) Checklist

  1. The wine has a real cork. Not screw top or a synthetic (aka plastic) cork
  2. Does the wine have tasting notes or reviews that don’t line up with what’s in your glass?
  3. Is your palate acting up? (drink some water, smell your forearm (trust me) and re-sniff)
  4. Does your drinking buddy think it’s corked too?

Is Corked Wine Safe to Drink?

Technically, yes. It just isn’t as an enjoyable experience as your other, non-tainted bottles of wine. The chemical built up doesn’t effect the overall “drink-ability” of the wine but personally, I’d find another bottle.

red wine marquee signage on table

What next?

If you are drinking a bottle of wine at a restaurant it is just like if you were going to send back a dish because it isn’t what you ordered, like you wanted a medium-rare steak and you got well-done. You’re paying for it, send it back. If you purchase the wine from a retailer, most shops will take back a bottle of tainted wine and refund or exchange the bottle for you. Obviously, they won’t take it back if you empty the bottle and then ask for the bottle to get exchanged but most shops will do this for you.

I hope that you never encounter a tainted bottle of wine but if you do – now you know what to do! Be sure to subscribe to be notified when a new blog post is released! If you want to learn more about wine – check out my podcast too!



The things I love the most...Wine, traveling, and photography! Join me on my adventures as I travel the world and share my experiences as I travel with my daughter, top places to visit and how to travel on a budget!

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The Backpacker Mom

Hey there! I'm Phylicia, but you probably know me as "The Backpacker Mom." As a passionate wine educator and travel blogger, my daughter and I embark on exciting adventures around the world, sipping wine and creating unforgettable memories together. Join us on our wonderful adventures around the globe! Read More Here

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