Each year a new study emerges with claims to the frequency of corked wine bottles. “Less than 1 percent,” some studies say, while others put that figure closer to 3 percent. Truth is, it’s impossible to know the exact proportion of bottles cork taint affects. One thing we can pin down, however, is which closures are susceptible.
When chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) comes into contact with natural cork, it causes a moldy, musty, “wet cardboard” aroma in wine. All natural corks are vulnerable to cork taint, meaning that a bottle of expensive Champagne is at just as much risk as an average bottle of still wine.
If you’ve never come across a corked Champagne, it may be because most of us consume a much smaller proportion of the French sparkler than we do standard still reds or whites. But the vast majority of Champagne houses use natural cork closures on their wines, meaning they, too, can be affected by cork taint.
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Cork taint presents itself in Champagne (or any other sparkling wine) in the same way as still wines: overpowering damp aromas and a notable drop in fruit flavors. The sparkling wine’s bubbles aren’t affected, however, so don’t let anyone try to convince you that effervescence is a sign a bottle isn’t corked. A lack of bubbles, meanwhile, would point to a deteriorated, or faulty cork.
Anecdotally speaking, during the holiday season, we had numerous sparkling wine and Champagne tastings at the VinePair office. Of more than 50 bottles sampled, only one was discarded because of cork taint. The wine was beautifully effervescent, and the fault only became apparent when smelling and tasting it.
Like any corked bottle, if you have the misfortune of coming across a corked Champagne, don’t be afraid to send it back. Whether you bought it from a local bottle shop or you’re dining out, good retailers and restaurants will be glad to learn of the fault and happy to offer you a replacement bottle.