Corked Wine? Bizarre but Effective Plastic Baggie Solution
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed August 30, 2005. For more information go to wineloverspage.com
As we've discussed so many times before, one of the greatest weaknesses of the natural (tree-bark) cork is its unhappy tendency to harbor a fungus that, on exposure to wine, emits a compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) that ruins the wine with a dank, nasty stench.
Once you've encountered a "corked" wine by its characteristic aroma, a musty mix of wet cardboard, damp basements and the chlorinated reek of an indoor swimming pool, you'll have little difficulty recognizing it again...and you'll likely become an advocate for screw caps and other alternative closures that aren't subject to TCA contamination.
The conventional wisdom has always been that a "corked" wine is irretrievably ruined and it might as well be poured down the drain. But in recent months, there's been a quiet stir on Internet wine forums as a number of wine enthusiasts in Britain and the U.S. have been experimenting with a bizarre but apparently at least partially effective remedy: insert a small plastic sandwich bag or a bit of plastic wrap into a severely "corked" wine, they report, and before long much of the "corked" stench will have gone away.
I confess that I was dubious enough about this that I was reluctant to write about it without trying it myself. And naturally, once I wanted to find a corked wine, my luck changed and I didn't encounter one for months.
The other night, though, I opened a pleasant if decidedly modest Portuguese white wine - Gazela non-vintage Vinho Verde ($5.59) - to discover the familiar dank mushroom-in-Clorox stench. Eeeuuww! Quick as a wink, I grabbed a Kroger brand "Snap'n'Seal" sandwich bag, rolled it into a tight cylinder, and poked it down into the wine. I put the bottle back in the fridge, re-stoppering it with the suspect cork, and waited a couple of hours.
Before long, the bag had unfurled within the bottle and was covered with tiny bubbles. I'm not certain whether this indicated a chemical reaction taking place or, more likely, simply revealed the slight carbonation in Vinho Verde. Either way, however, I poured a fresh glass a couple of hours later and was startled to find that the dank TCA aroma was gone.
How did it happen? I'm a writer, not a chemist, so some of the following poly-syllabic words are beyond my clear comprehension. But according to some of my science-savvy friends on our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, polyethylene - the material used to make baggies or plastic wrap - is a copolymer, a viscous ("greasy") nonpolar solvent composed of hydrophobic polymer chains. It is a more effective solvent for TCA than wine, so it selectively absorbs some of the nasties out of the wine on contact.
Obviously this is a rough-and-ready process, and our chemists theorize that, since some of the natural components of wine are also hydrophobic, the process most likely does not merely pull TCA out of the wine but may strip it of desirable color, aroma and flavor as well.
Since a corked wine is spoiled, though, there's really no harm in experimenting in an effort to salvage it. And in the case of the fresh, young and rather simple Vinho Verde, the plastic-bag treatment proved quite successful, completely eliminating the musty-chlorine aroma and leaving behind a very pale, watery-brass-color fluid with a light but pleasant citric aroma and near-dry flavor focused on lemons and limes.
I can't rule out the possibility that it had lost something in the process, but I can say without quibble that the bag treatment turned it from undrinkable to palatable. Next time I encounter a corked wine, I certainly won't hesitate to bag it.
I advise skepticism, though, about a new product unveiled this year by French entrepreneurs to gasps of amazement from British media. The product, sold as "Dream Taste," purports to absorb cork taint from wine with a special decanter and a single-use, disposable "copolymer" shaped like a tiny bunch of grapes. The set sells for a cool 40 Euros, and each throwaway unit commands 5 Euros.
I think I'll just stick with the plastic bag trick at $2.95 for 100 bags, thanks all the same.