Choose a page

How many times have it happened to you at a restaurant to smell a wine with a blank stare, desperate for a neuron capable of making such an unknown synapse? In this short guide I will teach you three easy tricks to understand if a wine tastes of cork

When does a wine taste like a cork?

"Great is the luck of he who has a good bottle, a good book, a good friend."


Before answering this question let's start from the ABC: do you know what corky smell is?

The scent of cork is due to a substance, the TCA (trichloroanisole), which is formed in the event that the cork is attacked by a fungus, the Armillaria mellea ... which is none other than the very common honey fungus (I'm sure that you too happened to eat it at least once in their life!). Yes, the very common chiodino mushroom that you buy at the supermarket and spadelli with tagliatelle or eat sautéed on a bruschetta is the feared culprit of the cork disease that irreparably damages the wine!

Wine Sa of cork, hint of honey fungus

I can already imagine you thinking: "But how Chiara... are you telling me that my beloved chiodini mushrooms that I also sbafato last night with a tray of pappardelle are those parasitic criminals who make me throw euros and euros of wine and make me look like mexxa at the restaurant with the woman or friends ? Are you kidding?"

No, I'm not kidding: the honey fungus actually contains a protein toxin that disappears only when cooked at a temperature above 65 ° C. For this reason, if it attacks the cork, it forms the TCA and gives that unbearable smell of wet dog, damp cellar or moldy newspaper ... Yes, the tender and bitter flesh of the nail mushroom cap is the main enemy of winemakers, sommeliers and consumers! This pest is devastating because it can lead to death in the trees on which it grows mainly in the rainy autumns of Europe and North America.

“And so Chiara if I want to sauté these delicious noodles safely by myself how the hell do I?

You probably happened to cook some nails without even knowing that when raw they were toxic! To be 99,99% safe, just boil the mushroom for 10-15 minutes in water, taking care to throw out the water before proceeding to the desired cooking.

But back to us… The cork stench in wine identifies a defect that can be easily recognized (if the diseased cork looks like this below).

Wine Sa of cork, hint of cork

Thanks to my friend Gianluca Morino, owner of Cascina Garitina for unwittingly lending me the photo! ☺️

Now you can subscribe to my newsletter or scroll down the page to continue reading the article!

I immediately dispelled a myth: even wines inside screw-capped bottles can have a hint of cork! In fact, this defect is not necessarily inherited from the cork, but the dear honey fungus (it is na chioda in fact) also attacks the wood of the barrels (this fungus loves humidity, like many others) ... therefore potentially all wines that spend a period in wood they can taste like cork! So I absolutely DO NOT agree with Intravino when he writes:

“The cursed cork, the cross of every enophile with a serious cellar, is a ruthless killer. A microorganism present in the cork is responsible for the transfer of the smell of the same name to wines, without distinction of caste: it can randomly afflict cheap wine and leasing wine. We all hate it. This is why we have learned to love alternative closures (screw cap, metal crown, silicone): at least with those you are sure that you will be saved. The sensation is exactly that of cork, which is felt in a clear and ineluctable way, and among the enoevoluti it is described with the term TCA (trichloranisole) to identify the molecule responsible for the nuisance. Obviously, defining a wine that tastes like a cork as “affected by TCA” is enormously cooler. "

Fiorenzo Sartore, vintner and founder of

I don't want Fiorenzo Sartore if for the second time I find myself in disagreement with him! As I already have ofchiarat I highly esteem his work, which is the second time in a month that it happens I find it a pure fatality!

"You are like wine: the older you get, the more you taste like a cork."

Luciana Littizzetto

In short, not even the screw cap will save you from that annoying smell ... As the agronomist Lamberto Tosi writes on his blog

“The modern disquisition on the plastic cap fits into this problem, which as such should be immune from the“ cork ”defect, but which in reality, precisely because the cork is rarely the real origin of the problem, does not substantially solve the problem. Perhaps he adds others because if we are at an in-depth level in the possible problems related to the cork stopper, we are certainly at the beginning with regard to the sales and evolution of wines sealed by these stoppers. "

In summary, a wine is a cork if:

  1. Learn to trust the first impression: you will rarely be wrong!
  2. It smells of mold, of a wet dog, of a damp cellar, of wet clothes forgotten in the washing machine ... (I'm sure that you too, at least once, have forgotten your washed clothes that were still wet in the washing machine for days ... 😄)
  3. When tasted it is bitter and smells of moldy.

One last thing: throwing away food or wine, especially in this historical period, is never pleasant. Take advantage of the fact that the TCA is volatile: with a wine that tastes like a cork, you can cook safely because the TCA evaporates during cooking! Then of course the situation must be evaluated from case to case ... but in general it is better to braise a good Barolo with a slight hint of cork than a completely "healthy" Tavernello ...

To learn while having fun with your friends and colleagues, buy on Amazon Wine Defects Kit - 12 Aromas containing samples certified by the best sommeliers of geranium, solvent (nail polish), vinegar, oxidized, maderized, cork flavor, cabbage, onion, gum, rotten egg, corn, horse sweat ... sure costicchia ... but you can also buy it with your sommelier colleagues to dispel any doubts! I also find it absolutely essential for those who have a restaurant business and are not very familiar with the world of wine ...

​​And remember to never take it for granted that if you see a piece of cork floating in the wine there are hints of cork: any cork residues can be caused by an incorrect opening that has damaged the cork!

Now you can buy my Sommelier book: the illustrated manual or scroll down the page to continue reading the article!

On sale!

Book "Sommelier: the Illustrated Manual" Special Edition 2022

All my notes on wine and food in one book.

(197 customer reviews)

 32,00 VAT included!

Available on demand

COMPLIMENTARY, only for those who buy my book on this blog, a copy of the First Collector's Edition of my Sparkling Wine Guide "500 Bubbles in 500", cover price € 25,30. [While stocks last]

“Nothing and no one can make you feel inferior, unless you allow them to”.


That is ... if you are in a restaurant and you realize that they have brought you a bottle that tastes like a cork, do not be ashamed to ask for a new one: if you pay, you have the right to drink well and the restaurateur in question has the duty to make you drink well! Don't be afraid to DARE to trust your impression, especially in restaurants where there is NOT a sommelier and therefore probably have difficulty storing the bottles correctly. Remember: there is a "fake cork smell" that can arise when the bottles are stored vertically and therefore there is no contact between the cork and the wine ...

PS Did you ever order a bottle in a restaurant and find out that it tasted like a cork? How did you behave? Write it in a comment!





error: This content is copyright ©Chiara Bassi