Two days ago, to prepare for a Dunne on Wine column about zinfandel to be in The Bee's Taste section this Wednesday, I picked up four bottles of the varietal at a local supermarket. We rolled them into a blind tasting last night. One of the wines clearly was "corked."
"Corked," in this sense, doesn't mean the bottle was closed with a cork. They all were. Rather, the wine was "corked" in that its cork likely was contaminated with trichloranisole (TCA), a chemical created by a reaction between mold in natural cork and the chlorine-containing chemicals the industry uses to clean corks. TCA is harmless to consumers, but it has a musty fungal smell that can taint to varying degrees any wine that comes in contact with a contaminated cork. The impact on the wine is to deaden its aroma, with the wet-cardboard smell it leaves in its wake ranging from faint to pronounced. In this instance, the musty smell was so intense you didn't have to be particularly sensitive to pick it up. Studies of the problem generally estimate that two to five percent of wine is contaminated with TCA, leading to the increased use of synthetic corks, glass stoppers and screwcaps in the industry.
I hate to have to return a bottle of wine, but the clerks understood the matter entirely, explained that while other brands have been returned due to cork taint this was the first time this particular zinfandel has been found wanting, and readily agreed to exchange the bottle for another, as long as I produced a receipt, which I did. This weekend we'll try the new bottle and report back.