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Cork taint in wine ‘suppresses’ sense of smell

Scientists in Japan claim to have 'completely changed' our understanding of the way cork taint in wine works.

Instead of emitting a bad odour as previously thought, the main chemical responsible for cork taint, known as TCA, is believed to alter drinkers’ senses by shutting down their ability to smell.

The findings are part of a study led by Japanese researchers and published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US.

‘The concept regarding the effect of TCA has been completely changed from this study,’ two of the authors, Dr Hiroko Takeuchi and Dr Takashi Kurahashi from Osaka University, told decanter.com.

Commenting on the findings, they said that the study suggests musty smells often found in wines with cork taint may be caused by the suppression of ‘olfactory receptor cells in the nose’.

This, they said, is not as unusual as it seems. ‘It is not so surprising in humans that suppression causes sensation, as exemplified in vision. One will see an opponent colour when a pre-exposed colour is suddenly removed, for example a green spot after a red spot.’

By understanding more about the processes of TCA, the research should help producers to improve the quality of their wines. The same is true for a range of foods and packaging, which have also been shown to contain TCA.

They added, ‘the logic may be applicable to invent novel masking agents for suppressing bad odours surrounding our life, and also channel inhibitors that include anesthesia and pain relief’.

Written by Chris Mercer

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