A client of mine sent me an article a few months ago that piqued my curiosity. Most of us know that dogs have an inordinately keen sense of smell (they’re used to sniff out bombs or explosives; to find smuggled drugs; to locate dead bodies after a disaster; or even to find truffles which grow under the ground). But who has ever heard of dogs being used in wineries to sniff out wine defects such as TCA (the culprit involved in a “corked” wine)? Indeed, dogs are being used not only in wineries to find TCA, but some thinking-out-of-the-barrel folks are also using canines to identify infected wood even prior to the barrel’s construction.
TCA (Trichloroanisole) is a chemical substance that can ruin wine. While it typically comes from corks, it can also originate in the actual wood from which a barrel is made, from wooden pallets used in a winery, or even from cardboard boxes. And, it’s extremely potent---one ounce of pure TCA would be enough to contaminate 10 billion bottles of wine, or more than five times California’s annual wine production. That means a barrel of wine contains only a microscopic fragment of TCA. Dogs, whose noses are thousands of times more powerful than humans, can detect these nano-like traces of TCA.
A corked wine is often described as a “musty basement” or “wet newspaper.” Ironically one of the other descriptors is that of a “wet dog.” Regardless of how you describe it, TCA ruins a wine. Although the cork industry has stepped up to the plate in decreasing “cork taint” by implementing better quality control procedures, it is still estimated that 2-4% of all wine is corked. If you haven’t experienced it, you’re one lucky dog.