I’ve Got The Cork Taint Blues


It was an Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino from the 2006 vintage. I’d looked forward to opening it for eons. Critic James Suckling said to lay it down until at least 2014. Finally, a worthy occasion presented itself: Summer Solstice, 2015. It was time to open the bottle. What would nine years of age have to say?  

I’ll tell you what it had to say: Sodden cardboard, soggy leaves, and weird animal parts. TCA strikes again.

What is TCA? It’s shorthand for Trichloroanisole, a chemical that can be present in some cork that creates moldy aromas in the glass. About five percent of bottles are effected by TCA. That percentage used to be much higher. Treatments to eradicate TCA have been a huge focus of the wine industry, and they’ve succeeded -- for the most part.

Some people are more sensitive to TCA than others. At low levels it can be difficult to detect. You've likely consumed many TCA-tainted bottles of wine in your lifetime. Fortunately, TCA can’t physically hurt you; the emotional trauma is another story.

Overall, when it comes to TCA, you’ll wonder why your wine is lacking bright fruit flavors. This tipped me off about my Brunello; the fruit was missing in action. While the leather and tobacco of early age was evident, the sour red cherry that is the hallmark of the Sangiovese wine grape was absent.

TCA isn’t always the cork’s fault. It could also be the barrels, in which case entire lots would be ruined. Considering the reams of positive reviews on this 2006 Brunello, I surmise that my bottle was just a stroke of bad luck. I was ready to accept my TCA-dappled fate.

Until I remembered the famed TCA quick-fix!
There’s one chemical that actually enjoys basking in the delight of TCA: Polyethylene, the world’s most common plastic. It absorbs TCA upon contact. Plastics based on the Polyethylene molecule are popular because it remains pliable for an extended period of time while remaining impervious to most damage. It is used in products like shampoo bottles, toys of all kinds, grocery bags, and saran wrap.

Using your shampoo bottle like a wand over your wine glass won’t do a thing. However, I will attest to the effectiveness of saran wrap. This is how I did it: I poured the wine into a big bowl. Next, I balled up a fist-sized wad of saran wrap and submerged it in the bowl of wine. Then I winced; and finally I waited.

Thirty minutes later the wet cardboard taste had vanished. Unfortunately, the fruit flavors did not return.

Although TCA is the scourge of wine lovers, that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun trying to eliminate it. Some plastics may work better than others. Getting a TCA-tainted wine bottle is like finding the golden egg; make lemons out of lemonade (or, wine out of grapes) and experiment with the plastic magic bullet: Polyethylene. Will a higher concentration of Polyethylene pull more TCA? Does a Barbie doll contain more Polyethylene than a wad of saran wrap? I’ll let you know after I find my next golden egg.

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