Inasmuch as it is expected that cork stoppers will continue to be the preferred choice of wine bottlers, it is necessary to address a major drawback associated with the use of cork. Cork taint refers to a common fault in wine, associated with the presence of haloanisole compounds (particularly, 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or TCA) in large enough concentrations above 2ppt (2ng/l) to degrade the sensorial attributes of wine.
Recent studies have proven that TCA contamination affects over 5% of commercial bottled wine. Though oak trees are not the only source of TCA contamination, cork is indeed the primary carrier, which explains the designation “cork taint”. Providing means to prevent contaminated cork stoppers to be used in the bottles would have positive impact in wine consumers satisfaction and confidence in the use of cork as raw material for manufacturing cork stoppers with significant economic consequences.
The proposed system would be based in the odor detection technology successfully applied in electronic noses that allow sensing of very low concentration levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (V.O.C.). Using an electronic nose to detect the presence of contaminants in the cork stoppers would allow the separation of the contaminated ones before they enter the supply chain.
The technological foundation already exists but it is necessary to improve the applied cost and speed of operation, tailoring them to the application. This technology could be applied in bottling lines, testing each cork stopper individually before its insertion and discarding those that have unacceptable levels of contaminants. In the cork stopper production plant it could be used in for individual cork stopper verification. This would allow the creation of a new category of value added product.
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