What Is Corked Wine?

In last week's Weeknight Meal Tip: What Do You Do With Bad Wine? post, a lot of readers mentioned corked wine in the comments section, and we thought we'd explain what the term "corked wine" means, in case some of you aren't sure.

Corked wine is a term among oenophiles that refers to tainted, or spoiled wine. Some people may think the term means "a bottle of wine that has a cork in it," but this is not the case. A bottle of wine that is unopened and gives off smells resembling a moldy newspaper or a wet dog along with a sour or rancid taste upon opening is considered a "corked wine." Corked wine also has a muddy, rusty color.

Most often, corked wine results from a bad cork, though it can also come from something happening during the aging or bottling process, or even during the storage of the bottle. Corks can get tainted by pesticides, airborne fungi, or bacteria while they are still on the tree. Corks also get contaminated with a chemical called TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). TCA is also detected in the wood of wine barrels and in the hoses, valves, funnels, and other objects involved in winemaking. TCA is harmless to humans, but it interferes with the odor and taste of wine to the point where it is unpleasant.

If your wine is corked, you should return it to the store or refuse it at the restaurant.

(Image: Kathryn Hill)