Here is today’s assignment: Track down a piece of cardboard. The size does not matter. It could be from a just-purchased packaged dress shirt, or the back of a notepad… wherever.
Next, soak it in water for about 10 minutes. Make sure it loses all of its stiffness. Then place it in a closet or your garage or some other place so it can dry slowly, without any access to sunlight or too much heat.
Tomorrow morning, soak it in water once more, this time for just a moment.
You won’t need to get very close to “experience” its musty “aroma.” Warning: While it won’t turn your stomach, it’s certainly not pleasant.
When a wine smells like that, it is said to be “corked.”
That term stems from the cause of the off-smell: cork taint. The presence of a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6 – trichloroanisole) is the culprit.
In essence, the cork in the bottle serves as the transporter of the TCA to the wine.
In a restaurant, it’s traditional for the sommelier, wine steward or server to pour a splash of wine into the glass of one guest to taste and ensure the wine has not been spoiled.
An experienced wine drinker won’t even bother to taste the wine. He or she will simply the swirl the wine, stick his or her nose deep into the glass, and take a few quick sniffs. If there is no presence of cork taint — that musty cardboard smell — then the wine is good to go.
There are other ways for wine to “go bad.” Leaving it in a store or restaurant window, exposed to sunlight and heat, will “cook” it over a period of time, stripping it of its aromas and flavors. Also, some wines simply age more quickly than others, and are meant to be consumed in their youth.
If you ever encounter what you believe to be a “corked” wine in a restaurant, politely ask your server to smell and taste it. Nine times out of ten, even if it’s merely in the spirit of goodwill, they will confirm your suspicion and get a replacement bottle for you.