Little ditty, ’bout moldy corks

November 9th, 2009

Moldy cork.

Moldy cork.

The recent silence on this blog has been due to something of a perfect storm of difficulties – both in the family and with pulling together material fundamental to several posts I’d been developing. All storms clear with time, however, and I am starting to settle back into my groove.

Recently, I broached the subject of improving cork processing and production to reduce the incidence of T.C.A.-tainted wines. It is cork taint that hindered me from completing a piece on a rather rare variety. Two separate samples of the same wine provided by the same (very reputable) importer were corked. Bummer.

The first bottle was closed with a clean cork and the taint was obvious when I opened the bottle and long before I poured a glass. The replacement bottle arrived a few days later and I let it rest while I attended to more urgent issues, confident that this bottle would be clean.

When I peeled back the foil off the second bottle last night, the top of cork was about a quarter of an inch below the mouth of the bottle. But as I put the screw to the cork, I saw a small clump of a fuzzy, powdery substance. Ashy-blue with a hint of green, the color meant it could only be one thing.

I then performed an act of wine sacrilege: I sniffed the cork. It was faint, but the telltale aroma was there. Fully aware of my denial, I poured a glass for Irene and one for myself. I handed Irene her glass without a word and went back to my office while she cooked. A few minutes later, she poked her head through the door. The jig was up. Bummer. I decided to quit while I was ahead.

Both bottles had, according to the importer, come from the same rack, so likely they came from the same case as well. It is safe to assume that they were from the same production lot and possibly had the same lot of corks used to close them.

I have had a fairly small number of wines whose corks were moldy. The wines, themselves, were clean. Mold on the outside of a cork does not mean the wine will be tainted. So, one question come to mind:

Can mold infestation of a processed and finished cork result in TCA formation? One comment from John Kelly leads me to believe that it may.

I’d love to hear from readers on their experience with wines with moldy corks. How often are the wines tainted when the cork is moldy? Is there any empirical evidence that mold infestation of finished cork after bottling can result in TCA taint?


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5 Responses to “Little ditty, ’bout moldy corks”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    I’ve recently had a 1988 St Emilion that had a very molded cork. The whole top of the cork was green and crumbly and the cork itself was impressed below the lip of the bottle. The wine however, was perfect.

  2. german wine guy Says:

    I have often in my 20 years of restaurant experience encountered corks with varying degrees of mold on the top prior to opening. I have noticed this mostly among German and French wines. I have never actually had a direct correlation between moldy on the outside and TCA on the inside.
    I would assume that the bottle(s) you tested were all among the same lot and that it was an isolated incident. I will say that from my experience now that I am in the business of selling wine, for some reason I have noticed more and more TCA, from every corner of the wine producing world. Perhaps it’s that I open a large amount of wine proportionate to most people…or that the state of quality in both cork production and cleanliness of wineries has fallen to unacceptable conditions.
    no matter which way you open it, it makes for a stinky situation!

  3. WineLush Says:

    TCA doesn’t come from moldy corks. Period.

  4. Thomas Pellechia Says:

    In my, er, decades of wine drinking, I remember meeting up with many wines with moldy corks but cannot remember meeting up with one TCA wine that came with a moldy cork.

  5. Jaxwino Says:

    I opened a 2008 Sonoma Chard; there was a slight bit of mold on the bottom of the cork…black streaks to be precise.

    It did not exhibit the normal cork taint characteristics, and in fact the fruit was full–contrary to most TCA wines.
    However, it did exhibit some off notes, including traces of muskiness & wet wood. Since it was an oaky chard to begin with, there was some discussion in the crowd…..