Thursday, December 11, 2008

Farewell to "corked" wine?

Okay, kind of an odd post for me to return with after a week away from the blog (sorry about that, it's been a busy week, and I'm still a bit under the weather): there's news that a technology developed by NASA to remove contaminants from fruits and vegetables headed to the space station may also effectively remove TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) from wine corks. Best of all, the process doesn't just filter the TCA, which would leave the possibility of it slipping through, it chemically destroys it.

If you're not familiar with TCA or corked wine, it's a big deal that most folks in the wine industry don't like to talk about. TCA occurs in natural cork; it's a contaminant (I think it's mold-generated) that doesn't show up until the cork is put in a bottle; when the bottle is opened and the wine is poured, it's pretty much nasty and undrinkable. If you ask folks in the wine or cork biz, it affects 1-3% of bottles (which is actually a huge number: imagine if 1-3 out of every 100 bottles of beer you got were just shite? Oh, wait, that's how craft beer was back in the 1990s...); if you talk to wine critics and industry analysts, it's more like 5-10%. A big problem when you're talking about flushing a $20 purchase down the crapper, and it's been a major component behind the move to screwtops, synthetic corks, and box wines.

But all those other closures have issues, to varying extent, and the wine industry would mostly rather use cork. Now, maybe they can:

Airocide was originally developed in the 1990s to keep fruit and vegetables fresh on a space station. It has been proved in concept trials to remove 90-95% of TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), which causes cork taint in wine, from a sealed room within 24 hours. The process works by sucking air through a box containing a 'bed' of titanium dioxide catalyst. This is irradiated by UV bulbs, oxidising any organic contaminants.

Independent UK wine laboratory Corkwise performed the trials on behalf of Airocide. Airocide is already used in hospitals, research facilities and for food storage - but is relatively new to the wine industry. Potential uses exist throughout the supply chain, from wineries to warehouses. The cost ranges from £1,500 for small units, to upwards of £7,000 for large ones.


Will it work? Is it economical? Can't say. But getting rid of TCA would sure take some of the pucker out of buying big-ticket wine, at least for me. Because once you've been burned by corked wine, you don't open a bottle quite the same way. At least for me. Pretty interesting.

5 comments:

Baums said...

"a technology developed by NASA to remove contaminants from fruits and vegetables headed to the space station may also effectively remove TCA"

This isn't the first time the space industry has trickled into purer booze (which is more productive than the reverse). Homebrewing author John Palmer once presented a simple technique modified from a space program, for removing surface lead from brass fittings (sometimes a concern of people who build their own brewing stuff).

Bill said...

Great news, if affordable. Though I'm one of the folks who don't taste the wet cardboard -- I've drunk many a bottle of wine and never noticed it, although for all I know, maybe I understood something -- that these mediocre bottles may have been corked and i just experienced them as flat, stale wines, as if they'd been open for a day.

Anonymous said...

imagine if 1-3 out of every 100 bottles of beer you got were just shite? Oh, wait, that's how craft beer was back in the 1990s...

That would be an improvement for some brewers like Kuhnhenn or McNeil's.

sam k said...

So, the space industry trickling into purer booze is more productive than the booze industry trickling into purer space?

I think I love it, but I'm not sure!

CP said...

Well...there are a lot of technologies (preventive and curative) to solve the TCA problem in the cork stoppers. Besides this wine can be tainted even before any stoppering, and there is wine stoppered with other stoppers (pastic, screwcap) which may have also a corky taste/smell.
In our lab we have developped a patented process in 2003, using gamma radiation for the elimination of TCA from cork stoppers, with results of more than 90% TCA removal, which is now already being used in Portugal for some cork stoppers and so it is technically and economically feasible.