Scientists Figure Out Why Bad Wine Smells Bad

Yes, it's a tainted cork, but for a strange scientific reason
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2013 6:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Those fluent in wine-speak sometimes refer to a wine being "corked"—meaning it has a nasty, musty smell upon being opened and doesn't taste so hot, either. Scientists have long identified the culprit as a chemical in the cork known as TCA, but new research from Japanese scientists adds a bizarre twist: It turns out that TCA doesn't cause a funky odor, but nearly the opposite—it "actually suppresses the drinker's sense of smell," explains LiveScience. Even small amounts of the chemical distorts olfactory signals and blocks the usual wine scents from reaching the brain, reports Science. Unfortunately, the brain is left with what it interprets as a musty odor, for reasons that are still unclear.

"It's quite an elegant piece of research," one scientist not affiliated with the study (on both newts and humans) tells Australia's ABC News. "It just shows how complex the olfactory system is." The discovery could have odor-blocking applications for the cosmetics and hospital industries. But, adds the scientist, "the main question still left open for me is—why are we still sensing what's going on as a musty odor?" (In other alcohol-science news, researchers determined that a man is essentially brewing beer in his own gut.)

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