Thu 14 May 2015

What Do You Do With Corked Wine?


Well I had always presumed that you just poured it away and, of course, either contacted Member Services for a credit or reported your misfortune on our website (you can log such incidents by going to My Account and selecting Order History and Report a Problem).

But during a recent visit from David Bird MW, whom we employ as a consultant chemist to help maintain high standards of quality control and act in an advisory capacity, we learned that he uses corked bottles in cooking. David is the author of Understanding Wine Technology (DBQ Publishing), now in its third edition.

corked wineAll of us at the meeting, including The Society’s buying team, were surprised to hear this. We had all been led to believe that you should always use the best quality wine you can afford to cook with. While I would baulk at using good Burgundy to make boeuf bourguignon, the idea that if wine isn’t good enough to drink, it isn’t good enough for the pot has at least sunk home.

In any case, some cork-tainted wine is so foul-smelling (and it often gets worse on contact with air), it would seem counter-intuitive to think of making something nice to eat with it.

But as David pointed out, the process used to eradicate TCA (trichloroanisole), the compound responsible for cork taint, involves steaming them. He argues therefore that, as long as the dish you are making will involve simmering at some point, there is no reason why you cannot use corked wine. As TCA is volatile in steam it should simply boil off.

corked wine in cooking

as long as the dish you are making will involve simmering at some point, there is no reason why you cannot use corked wine.

An industry that’s cleaned up its act
Happily, the incidents of corked bottles are greatly reduced from levels ten years or so ago (though it is still believed to be affect around 5% of cork-sealed bottles). The cork industry has radically changed and cork production is now an extremely high-spec operation. David Bird said that he had visited the Alentejo region of Portugal in the 1980s as part of a Master of Wine-organised trip and that at time, the cork oaks were stripped and the bark dipped in what he described as ‘boiling mud’. ‘It was still effectively a peasant-style industry in those days.’

But a more recent visit to Amorim, the main supplier of corks to the wine trade, revealed an operation totally changed. No longer is bark piled up and trucked to factories in the north of Portugal but new state-of-the-art factories have been set up within the cork forests themselves. The bark is stored on stainless-steel pallets and then cleaned in boiling water in closed, filtered stainless-steel tanks. Then there’s the (almost secret) steaming process, done in a special way so as not to shrink the cork.

‘There’s also a much higher reject level than in the past too, with only the best-quality cork going into production for wine stoppers,’ explained David. After the corks have been punched out of the bark each batch goes into the lab for testing by gas chromatography. While every effort is made to limit the possibility of undesirable components contaminating corks, to test every single cork is still too costly.

Hopefully your own experience of corked bottles has also diminished of late. Now that we know we don’t have to pour the contents down the sink, though not much of a consolation, particularly on a much-anticipated long-cellared treat, it’s nice to know it’s not completely wasted.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

There’s more advice on spotting wine faults on our website

Categories : Miscellaneous


  1. Larry Barker says:

    ALWAYS use any sort of off wine in cooking. You can cook with vinegar – why not the odd dodgy bottle?

  2. Phil C says:

    I totally endorse cooking with corked wine – the taint certainly boils off. Some of my most memorable dishes were cooked with (sadly) corked top quality wine – e.g. a sauce for turbot made with corked Montrachet and a beef skirt stew made with Cornas.

  3. Melissa Charlton says:

    The boiling point of trichloroanisole is 140C according to Wiki. Does that mean it cannot be converted to gas at normal food simmering temperatures ?

    And are there any ways it can link permanently into the complex chemicals of food at a low temperature, and thus remain as a taste-altering influence ?

  4. The boiling poing of TCA at atmospheric pressure is raound 250C. So I presume the steam Amorin use to remove it is heated well above that temperature. But the steam in your pot will be closer to 100C, which is far to cool to vaporise the TCA. There is the possibility that steam distillation might remove some TCA at 100C, but that would need to be demonstrated. And you also need to consider that fats bind TCA, which will tend to keep is in your sauce.

    But the proof is in the eating. Lots of people find they cannot detect TCA if they use corked wine in cooking, but I have personal experience of a disgustingly corked sauce made from a corked wine. My guess is that if the wine is only slightly corked you get away with it because all the other flavours drown it out, but if it is badly corked it will spoil your food. Until I have stronger evidence though, all my corked wine goes down the sink.

  5. John Southall says:

    Personally, I would never risk spoiling a dish being cooked that calls for the addition of wine, and using “corked” wine. By the time at which the wine is added, you have invested all the money in the ingredients, the preparation, and the anticipation, and I`m afraid I would not risk losing that for the sake of a bottle of fresh wine.
    Even if your “corked” bottle was expensive, you don`t need more than a new £6 bottle to go into a cooking pot.
    And with the Society`s policy of crediting for “corked” bottles, it costs you no more than a tear to pour it down the sink.
    Is this a good time to raise a cheer for the screw top? What a great success. These days I even feel disappointed to pull a bottle out of the kitchen rack and find that it`s a cork stopper. All that work before you can taste the wine.

  6. JerryW says:

    Any home cook learns, or should learn, that in many dishes (a risotto springs to mind) which wine you use is completely irrelevant since the flavour does not come through to the finished dish. Since a risotto involves a great deal of simmering I now know, thanks to your article, why that is.. unfortunately most of the components that give the flavour and bouquet to a wine also boil off with the TCA!
    This will also apply to most casseroles, pot au feu etc.

    I was also taught to split garlic cloves in half and remove the green bit in the middle, which I was told tasted bitter.. but having forgotten once, I discovered that it is not true: provided the garlic is being cooked and not eaten raw, it is a complete waste of time since you cannot taste any difference either way

  7. Bruno Noble says:

    The idea that you should buy wine to cook with is ludicrous. If you have no unfinished bottles of wine at home, don’t cook a dish that requires wine. I frequently have a little wine in an unfinished bottle and add it to whatever unfinished or corked bottles I already have – I use that instead of buying a bottle of wine for a dish I aim to cook for two or three hours, such as a coq-au-vin. The only thing I’d add is beware of sediment: I filter/pour the wine in the pan through a port filter.

  8. Alan Tipping says:

    Have used corked wine in cooking and the results have been fine, with no residual smell or taste. And the idea promulgated by some chefs that you should use the same wine in the dish as the wine to drink with the dish is simply for people with more money than sense – or for that matter taste!

  9. If it’s just on the edge I keep it and it makes an excellent coq au vin, otherwise down the drain!

  10. John Fletcher says:

    It is important that at least some wine is still sealed with cork closures. If the cork industry failed all those cork forests forming the dehesa in Portugal and Spain would be uprooted. That would be tragic since that region not only has the most wonderful ecosystems but also retains a remarkable rural employment in beekeeping, charcoal burning and cork stripping not to mention the pigs that feast on acorns.

  11. Brian Wilkie says:

    I moved from France to Scotland bringing some good Languedoc wines with me.
    Worked our way through them and, recently, opened up a bottle of white from the famous Mas Bruguieres in the Pic St Loup region. The wine was awful, and it was poured down the sink. Closely followed by the second bottle a few days later.

    “Corked” does not always mean tainted by a bad cork IMHO.

    There is no way that this type of failure would suit a wine being used in cooking.

  12. Madeleine Hall says:

    I can confirm you can successfully cook with corked wine. I had left a bottle of good burgundy too long at the bottom of the cellar and decided to try to use it despite it’s being undrinkable. I bought a 3 pack for £10 deal on diced beef and cooked just one of the packs in the wine, the other 2 in stock so that if it failed, I only had to ditch 1/3 of the beef. A taste test proved the the beef bourguignon was rich and fragrant so I mixed the two versions together and we enjoyed a beautiful casserole, with another bottle of wine, naturally.

  13. Franz Kunst says:

    Have used corked wine in cooking for years. TCA will not be noticed afterwards as long as sufficient time and temperature used. But do not use for marinating, fatal mistake made once!

  14. Chris Madell says:

    On the (very rare) occasions I have received a corked bottle, I have no hesitation in using it in stews.

  15. ian charlton says:

    In all the years I have only ever had two bottles of wine which has been corked, is this just lucky or is there people calling out wine which they simply don’t like

  16. Just a note to say that both Melissa and I are both correct about the boiling point of TCA. It is 140C in Wikipedia, as Melissa said, but that is at a pressure of 28 torr. I quoted the boiling point at atmospheric pressure, which is more relevant to cooking food, and considerably higher at 760 torr.

    Note also that alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. Even so, if you simmer/bake in a pot for 1 hr with some stirring some 25% of the alcohol remains.

    I mentioned a couple of reasons in my last comment why cooking with corked wine might work. An additional possibility is that the TCA is destroyed by a reaction with other stuff in the sauce at high temperature.

  17. David Bennett says:

    I’m highly sensitive to TCA. As a result I have had “corked” fruits , bananas & apples and more recently a “corked” ready prepared salad from a major UK high street supermarket. I was ridiculed about the last thing until I got my fellow wine lovers – a vinously educated bunch- to smell the offending salad. My vindication was a triumph as to a person they all agreed! So, TCA is not just a vinous issue! Oh and btw, cooking with corked wine makes the food taste corked – it’s quite disgusting having a lovely presented meal ruined by a corked sauce (most common) . It’s a shame but even “plastic bagging” rarely helps ( the addition of a sandwich plastic bag to a lightly corked wine helps as the polymers absorb the TCA- amazing but true) but often makes the wine drinkable but dull.

  18. Rob Y says:

    I wouldn’t risk cooking with corked wine…
    I’m not convinced the steam distillation process would work without a constant stream of steam. The process will be complex, with a cacophony of volatile components – not to mention the water-ethanol azeotrope – and would also remove a lot of flavour components.
    One missing bit of science is how sensitive the human nose is to TCA and what concentrations we can detect – and that does vary from person to person.
    TCA is a highly lipophilic (i.e. fat-loving) molecule – quoted log P values are in the region of 4; that is to say the compound is 10,000 times more soluble in fats/oils than in water. And thus also has a high affinity to polymers, which are “super fats” – hence the plastic bag or cling film trick. I have experience of this – it kind of works, but (as steam distillation would) it removes other flavour components and leaves a taint of its own.
    Personally, if I had to cook with corked wine, I would decant off the fat layer that floats on a sauce – where the TCA would most likely be concentrated…

  19. Ken Omersa says:

    Natural cork adsorbs TCA, which is largely why there is a problem in the first place. However, this can also work to your advantage. Pour your corked bottle of wine into a jug, add a few good corks, and stir occasionally for an hour or two. The cork will remove some of the TCA, which may render it drinkable again, if it was just mildly corked.

    The threshold for detecting cork taint is very low, around 10 nanograms per litre, which is less than a 100 millionth of a gram in a bottle. Sadly, a little goes a long way.

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