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CHAPTER 7.It tastes like cork!

“If a cork tastes like cork, wine tastes like cork; if a cork tastes like wine, wine tastes like wine”

Pretty obvious, right? But let’s deepen the issue in order to understand what the causes of cork scent could be.

It is estimated that a variable percentage between 1 and 15% of bottles of wine, present a cork scent. But where is this material coming from? The cork is extracted from the bark of the “Quercus Suber”. The substance protects the plants from adverse weather conditions. And it takes 30 years for the plant to provide the material that can be used for wine corks.

The main cultivation areas are right North to the Mediterranean Sea. In particular Portugal (above all the Lentejo region), Spain and Italy (above all Sardegna and Sicily). There are also some smaller production areas in South France, Corsica and North Africa.

This particular oak covers up a territory of about 36.000 Km2 of which 20.000 are used with an economical purpose to extract the cork. Each year, around 300.000 tons of cork are selected from these plants. 15.000 come from Italy where Sardegna is the leading producer thanks to a production per year of about 12.000 tons. The total sales volume nearly touches 1,5 billion € and provides a secure job to more than 30.000 people. Not bad, uh?

Going back to the key point. Why it happens that some wine tastes like cork?

If in the past the cork scent was assumed to be caused by defective caps, recent studies have actually shown that the unpleasant smell and taste is linked to the “Armillaria Mellea”. A typical fungus often present in the cork oaks. Moreover new researches, have narrowed down the field, identifying the TCA (trichloranisole) as the main responsible. This substance generates in presence of chlorine, often used to clean the tools employed to handle wood.

Other causes, even if less frequent, can also be some kind of mold that develop when a bottle is preserved for long time in a vertical position or in the fridge. It can also happen that a “terrain” scent, is uncorrectly attributed to the cork, while it is actually caused by defective healthiness condition of the wine cellar. Last case, a wine can result as not drinkable if it has been aged in low quality wooden barrels.

It is not that difficult to recognize a cork smelly wine. In these cases the smell is in fact strong and unpleasant. Similar to a moldy newspaper or a humid cellar or wet dog. Trust us, if you ever going to experience a similar wine, you will definitely going to identify the issue.

If in doubt, a good habit is to pour a small quantity of wine in the glass and test again wether the smell is good or not. If it’s not, then unfortunately that wine won’t be drinkable.

As we said at the beginning, an unpleasant smell usually brings to the exclamation “It tastes like cork!”. But the causes can actually be different as the solutions to avoid it. For example: an accurate choice of raw material; more attention to the cleaning conditions of wine cellars; an increased care within the field handling. All different, but all with a common side: the research of the best quality in each step of the supply chain.

NB: When the caps are made using the material coming from the bottom of the oak they are more likely to be infected with the fungus “Armillaria Mellea”, responsible of the cork smell. On the other side, the ones made using the top of the plant, are more prestigious and expensive and less disposed to the infection even if not immune.

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