Ca Sent La Merd: Faults, Flaws and TCA in Wine
Wine is an agricultural product and, as such, is far from uniform despite the best efforts of man and technology. It is grown in dirt, mud, sand and clay; shocked by wind, sun, rain and frost; harvested by the thick calloused hands of farmers; and capped with a piece of tree that happens to be a great piece of 17th century technology. But you receieve it in a neat package with a nifty label. The server pours a taste awaiting your approval. You swirl, sniff and your nostrils are filled with the noxious smell of moldy cardboard, sweaty horse or worse--ca sent la merd (the smell of shit). What then?
Although wine critics have debated the virtues of barnyard (a more polite term for shit), sweaty saddle or bandaids, they are flaws. Yet they are often lauded and grow to encompass the wine's terroir (character of a region resulting from micro-climate, topography and viticultural methods). However, there is one unmistakable odor that should lead you to politely decline a bottle: "eau du homeless man's chateau"--a cardboard box drenched in urine and street wash.
That's TCA (Tricloroanisole), a bacteria that infects the cork. Its what happens when a wine is corked. Not to be confused with a piece of cork floating in the wine, which is harmless. TCA will not cause an adverese reaction in the drinker but will lend an unpleasant taste and smell to the wine. Yuck.