Does cling wrap remove cork taint?

If you’re planning on opening old, cork-sealed bottles at a dinner party or tasting, the best advice is to have back-up bottles on hand. Pexels

At a dinner party, a bottle of expensive red Bordeaux was poured, and a general groan went around the room. The wine was ‘corked’. Disappointment reigned, until some bright spark said “Have you got any Glad Wrap in the kitchen? I heard that it gets rid of cork taint.”

The big surprise is that polyethylene does in fact remove TCA cork taint from wine—but it must be 100% pure.

A roll of cling-film was produced. A sheet was torn off, scrunched up, and placed in a glass jug. The wine was poured into the jug and given a good swish. Some of the assembled thought it made a slight difference to the wine; others thought it had no effect at all.

The idea that cling-wrap cures cork taint persists in some quarters, so I asked Adrian Coulter, the Australian Wine Research Institute’s senior oenologist, for his view. He confirmed that cling-film does not remove cork taint, and he furnished published scientific work to prove it.

A let-down, for sure: it would be so convenient if cling-film did the trick, as just about every household has a roll in a kitchen drawer.

But the story doesn’t end there.

The big surprise is that polyethylene does in fact remove TCA cork taint from wine—but it must be 100% pure, food-grade PE*, and cling-wrap isn’t pure PE. It can be composed of various polymers other than, or including, PE.

To procure some 100% pure food-grade PE you’d have to get it from a manufacturer. I’m currently investigating this possibility.

It would be great to have a sheet of PE in your handbag just in case you encounter a corked bottle of ’82 Mouton or ‘78 La Tâche in your travels…

In Australia and New Zealand it is happily quite rare to need a corkscrew these days, let alone a slice of polyethylene.

But, if you’re planning on opening old, cork-sealed bottles at a dinner party or tasting, the best advice is to have back-up bottles on hand.

* Adrian Coulter writes:

“The mechanism of removal by a PE membrane has been shown to be due to adsorption of TCA onto the membrane surface through hydrophobic interactions (Park et al. 2007). Hydrophobic interactions occur between nonpolar molecules that tend to gather together when they are present in a polar solvent. That is, TCA has more affinity for PE than water (or wine), so it adsorbs to the surface of the PE.”

3 thoughts on “Does cling wrap remove cork taint?”

  1. Avatar says:

    Regarding your article about cling wrap and cork taint.
    Is it possible that readily available freezer bags are similar to the food grade PE referred to by Adrian Coulter.
    Many years ago I read in an article that freezer bags were useful in removing the unpleasant characters from TCA affected wine.
    I have tried this with red wine in the past to varying degrees of success – the level of taint being the main factor. In wines that weren’t badly affected, the taint could become undetectable. The worse the wine was TCA affected, the more freezer bags were required to make a difference. Very badly affected wines could not be improved to a point where they become enjoyable.
    I do believe that the basis of the process is sound. The TCA smell on the used freezer bags after removal from the wine could be much more concentrated than in the affected wine initially.
    However, I do not believe that the quality of a wine could be returned to that of a pristine bottle.
    I don’t think I ever tried this with white wine. I recall a caveat, in that molecules producing the aromatic and flavour components of some particular white wine varieties were also removed by this process. With most of our whites under screwcap it is rarely an issue for consumers anyway.
    Mind you, there are issues of convenience relating to shoving an increasing number of freezer bags into a wine filled decanter, swirling it all around with a chopstick and then waiting an appropriate time to assess the outcome after each addition – all while your dinner guests are waiting for something palatable to drink.

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      I asked Adrian Coulter about the freezer bags. His reply: “From what I gather, freezer bags like the ‘zip lock bag’ are made from polyethylene and I would presume they are food grade. So yes, the story from Roger makes sense. One would want to cut off the zip lock mechanism first, which usually contains a coloured part (hence a dye), and any portion of the bag that has a white area for writing on (which would also contain a dye or ink).”

    2. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      With regard to the white wine query, Adrian replied: “With regard to white wine, Capone et al. (1999) … found that treating a litre of wine with a piece of PE ‘had no discernible effect on the aroma of a non-tainted red or oak-fermented white wine, although it did produce a noticeable lessening of the floral/fruity character in a non-tainted Riesling wine’.

      “So, while PE would work to remove TCA from white wine, it may result in some loss of floral/fruity characters (however, would that be noticeable in a musty wine if the mustiness was removed?).”

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