Imagine opening a special bottle of wine, pouring it into your decanter, and seeing the cork crumble as you pull out the corkscrew. All serious wine drinkers have been there, and it’s never fun. Fortunately, there are easy ways to handle a broken cork when you’re decanting your wine. 

Although this situation is frustrating and potentially embarrassing in front of guests, if you know what you’re doing, you should be fine. But is your precious wine still drinkable, even after its cork disintegrated in front of your eyes? 

The first thing to do is take a deep breath and know that you can fix this. There are things you can do to take it out and chances are, your wine is perfectly fine. Plus, if you have guests, dealing with a faulty wine cork while decanting can turn into a fun party gag. 

Understanding why this happens and what to do if it does will give you peace of mind and keep decanting your wine stress-free. After all, this is a normal part of enjoying wine. 

What Causes a Damaged Cork

Corks take the brunt of nature’s forces so your wine doesn’t have to. It’s normal for there to be wear and tear. However, good cork care comes with storing your wine properly. 

When storing your favorite wine, keep the bottle lying down, letting the liquid mingle with the cork’s inner side. Make sure it’s also lying in a humid enough space so the cork stays flexible and hydrated. 

This is why automated wine cabinets are usually temperature and humidity controlled. It’s also why wineries store their bottles and barrels underground. The cool and moist air and lack of light keeps the corks fresh, allowing the wine to age gracefully. 

We’ve all seen or heard about wine bottles stored for long periods of time in someone’s closet or worse of all, kitchen. If you stand your wine bottles up in a dry environment for too long, this is when things go wrong. 

A cork that’s been improperly stored dries out, gets brittle, and loses its form. Sometimes a dry cork that’s been improperly stored will crumble like a cracker, which is not what you want to see when you’re opening a special bottle of wine. 

Cork damage is normal for old wines. If a young wine has cork damage, that can be a sure sign that someone stored it incorrectly. 

Does This Mean My Wine is Bad? 

Just because your cork is having a meltdown doesn’t necessarily mean your wine’s quality is down the drain. Corks protect wine and sometimes the environment they’re protecting against can wear them down. 

Even in the most prestigious restaurants and wine drinking circles, dealing with a faulty cork is normal. Most wine drinkers have ordered a bottle of fine wine at a restaurant only to see their server struggle with a crumbling cork. Most of the time, that server can get a clean pour and the wine comes out tasting amazing.  

If you get a few cork bits in your wine, don’t worry. Cork bits won’t ruin your wine and don’t necessarily mean it’s corked. When a wine is corked, it’s been exposed to a compound called TCA. This makes it smell and taste anywhere from slightly ‘off’ to incredibly foul. 

Fortunately, crumbly cork bits have nothing to do with TCA. This obnoxious compound can be found in brand new corks, old corks, and even the wooden barrels the wine’s been aged in. Sometimes, TCA can even get into a screw cap and ruin a wine. 

TCA happens when harmless bacteria or fungi contaminate a piece of cork or wooden barrel. They can stick around during the winemaking or bottling process and contaminate an entire batch of wine. If you accidentally drink a corked wine, don’t worry. It’s completely safe but tastes horrible. 

How to Deal with a Crumbled Cork

Once you have a crumbled cork to take care of, don’t panic. You can still save your wine for decanting. Make sure you have a few tools in your wine-drinking arsenal. 

First, you need your decanter. Even if you don’t plan on decanting your wine, a decanter can be helpful if your cork has crumbled into your wine. 

Next, have some type of filter. Cheesecloth, clean fabric cloth, or an industrial filter made for wine decanters to remove sediment will work fine. 

Once you have your tools at your disposal, you’re ready to handle the faulty cork and save your wine. Below are the best ways to properly decant your wine even if the cork is damaged or destroyed. 

Keep Trying the Corkscrew

If your cork is crumbling, you may want to try opening it in one solid pull. Often the top of a cork crumbles because it is dry, but the inside may still be moist and protecting the wine. 

If this is the case, you can still open the wine with your corkscrew. Sometimes you may need to insert the corkscrew through the inside of the cork. 

Although this will send pieces of cork into your wine, you’ll be able to filter them out later. 

Use a Two-pronged Opener

Sommeliers usually keep a two-prong opener, also known as a ‘butler’s thief,’ on hand to handle fragile corks. These tools work by pinching the cork on two ends, allowing you to slide the cork out of the bottleneck. 

To use this handy tool, carefully slide the longer prong in between the cork and the bottleneck. Then, push the other prong into the space on the other side. 

Slide both prongs down, wiggling them around the cork using a forward and backward motion. Keep pushing until the prongs can’t go further down. Never push the prongs in forcibly, this will just send that faulty cork straight into the bottle. 

Finally, just simply turn the cork and pull it up towards you slowly while pushing down on the bottle. This should save your wine from getting any bits of cork inside. 

Filter it in the Decanter

Even if the above methods work, you may end up with pieces of cork inside your wine. Or, sometimes, the cork is too badly damaged to prevent it from getting into your wine. If this is the case, the easiest and most effective method, once everything else has failed, is to use your decanter to filter the wine. 

First, place a cloth or cheesecloth over the opening of your decanter. Slowly pour your wine through the filter and into the decanter. 

You’ll see chunks of cork collect inside the cloth. If there are still pieces of cork in your wine after decanting, don’t worry. Just filter it again into another decanter or glass container if you have one. 

If you don’t have a clean cloth or cheesecloth, consider using a clean mesh strainer. Although it may not work as well as a cheesecloth, it will get the job done. 

All is Not Lost

When you’re decanting your wine, the last thing you want to see is a faulty cork. What’s worse is if pieces of the cork get into your wine. 

As stated above, all is not lost and you can still decant a bottle of wine even with a broken cork. These methods work well for handling any type of cork scenario. 

However, if you smell foul aromas of mold or wet cardboard, send your wine back to the server or return it to the wine store you bought it from. They will exchange it. This is a clear sign that your wine has been ‘corked’, which is a different problem altogether.