A Corked Martini

For anyone who enjoys a glass of wine, a ‘corked; wine is something rather unpleasant and for wine lovers and professionals – it is the plague. Many spoilt bottles have angrily been poured down the sink at home and rejected at the table of a restaurant.

Corked – what does this mean? Most people know the term but there is a misapprehension about what it actually means. Cork taint is one of the most common faults in wine, leaving the contents of the bottle smelling musty and most commonly of ‘wet cardboard’ aromas, rendering that glass or bottle undrinkable and subject for return.

Cork Taint comes from a chemical compound known as Trichloroanisole or TCA. TCA is produced when naturally occurring airborne fungi and bacteria are introduced with chlorinated phenolic compounds – these chlorophenols can come from impurities found in wood preservatives and pesticides but also in some other processes involve chlorine such as bleaching, washing to sterilise different items. In the case of wine, this is due to the washing of corks in chlorinated water for hygiene. 

After seven years of working with wine and the tasting of thousands of bottles each year – the wretched smell of TCA is forever ingrained in my flavour memory. So you can imagine my dismay when I ordered my gin martini with a twist and it smells of that signature musty cardboard corked note! An initial thought that the bottle of gin was corked was soon eliminated – the bartender made me another martini from the same bottles, but this time it was perfect. The only alteration being a new twist of lemon. Can a lemon be corked? I began to look into the journey of the lemon from tree to cocktail. 

At many citrus fruit orchards – once the citrus has been picked, it is transported to the packinghouse and placed onto a conveyer belt outside or inside which transports it to be cleaned and packed.

The fruit is either conveyed under sprays of chlorinated water or in other packinghouses the fruit is dumped into a bath of water – again often these wet dumps are often chlorinated.

This is done to destroy any spores that could contaminate the fruit handling equipment and prevent the spread of these. The extensive use of chlorine in the sanitation of citrus packinghouses means that the occasional lemon can be found with TCA on its skin. 

More surprisingly than a corked lemon – turning our favourite cocktails corked, is that this remains almost completely unknown to the bartenders of the world. But as with a corked bottle of wine there is not much that can be done with the skin of any these lemons or any other ‘corked’ citrus.

It may be worth smelling the skin of any citrus fruit intended for the glass of any loyal martini drinker.