What to do if your wine cork breaks or crumbles – Ask Decanter

image of mixd Bordeaux corks

If you open enough bottles of older wine, it’s bound to happen to you. While opening a special bottle of wine, you remove the corkscrew only to find bits of cork attached. Staring down into the bottleneck you see the bulk of it remains, despite your best efforts.

The worries are twofold: saving face as one battles with the obvious lack of expertise and, most importantly, preserving the precious wine. Can it still be drunk after a cork disaster?

We’ve asked an expert for techniques and coping strategies. Alexandre Freguin’s first piece of advice is clear: ‘Do not stress. This will only make it worse.’ Freguin, UK Best Sommelier 2018, former head sommelier at Chez Bruce and Famille Perrin brand ambassador, has had to deal with his share of tricky corks.

The most important strategy, particularly in one of the world’s top restaurants, is keeping one’s cool.

The cork has crumbled. Now what?

The simplest and most obvious solution is to find a way to filter the wine. 

‘Clearing the wine from the floating bits of cork is the goal,’ says Freguin. ‘I find that a very thin cloth is particularly useful and works well. Cover a funnel with the cloth and pour the wine into another container, such as a decanter.’

But it’s important that you handle the wine delicately.

‘Be careful. If we are talking about an old and probably fragile wine, I wouldn’t pour the entire bottle out, only until the pieces of cork have fallen on the cloth. Then gently pour the wine back into the bottle.’ The filtration and additional aeration will speed up the process of oxidation and the loss of the more volatile aromas. This has a negative impact on a particularly delicate wine. You might even want to consider, in such cases, filtering directly into the glass.

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If the cork has crumbled, does it mean the wine is faulty?

If a wine has been properly stored horizontally, with liquid in contact with the cork’s inner surface and in a space with enough humidity, the cork should remain hydrated and in good condition. A hydrated cork will keep its flexibility and structure. If the bottles are stored vertically for too long in dry conditions, the cork will soon dry out. It can become brittle and lose its cohesion.

‘Corks can be tricky, especially on older bottles, but they are also a great source of information about the state of conservation and storage of the wine. I will have questions about how the wine was cellared if the cork just falls apart,’ says Freguin.

It might mean that the wine has had unwanted contact with oxygen, possibly for a long time, and is, therefore not in an optimum condition. So, taste carefully before serving the wine to guests. But a crumbling cork does not necessarily mean that the wine’s quality has been compromised.

‘Some of the best bottles of wine I have tasted have had the worst cork condition,’ says Clement Robert MS, director of wine and spirits at Liquid Icons. In most cases the wine will still be fine to drink, as it should still have been kept with a protective seal.

One thing to keep in mind, this does not mean the wine is corked.

‘One of the most common misconceptions is that the small bits of deteriorated cork in contact with the wine will make it ‘corked.’ But you can rest easy, that’s not the case,’ says Robert.

Cork taint is not a product of cork itself; it happens due to the presence of a chemical compound (TCA), which can occur in any cork, old or new, dry or moist. If it isn’t there to begin with, then it won’t be there when the cork breaks.

 Is there a foolproof way to avoid breaking corks?

The quick answer is no. You might have the best corkscrew on the market, and you might have done it a million times before. Corks crumble and break even at the hands of the most experienced sommeliers. This is especially true for old bottles which have not been stored correctly, leaving the cork dry…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/learn/advice/what-to-do-if-your-wine-cork-breaks-or-crumbles-ask-decanter-385980/