TCA Has No Smell..

Rather interesting article in which I find out that TCA has no smell:

A rather interesting, if surprising, article.

I have a sample of a few crystals of TCA, compliments of a friend at ScottLabs, that is soaking in vodka. The small jar
is enclosed in two ZipLok, placed in a jar that has a tight clamp on the top, w/ a piece of SaranWrap sealing the
opening. Yet I can pick up the jar, thru all the seals, and smell the musty/wet newspapers when I hold it close
to my nose. Wonder what actual thing I’m smelling that the TCA is subducting?

Anyway, a nice read for the chemists on the Board.


This is an interesting in vitro article:

We know the correlation with the presence of TCA is real…

I knew a oenophile neurologist who thought TCA affected wine “odor” by allowing you to smell “how you really smell” while suppressing sensation of more pleasant odors.

Like someone who gets irritable on caffeine: the caffeine makes them able to see others as they really are.

Perhaps there are other molecules that occur with TCA that take part? Maybe slight molecular changes into other haloanisoles and halophenols?

This —> Studying Haloanisoles Interaction with Olfactory Receptors - PubMed

This abstract will take you to Pub Med, which has a free link to the full article: Testing the Sensitivity of Potential Panelists for Wine Taint Compounds Using a Simplified Sensory Strategy - PubMed


Fascinating! Thanks for posting.

So, Anton, are you saying that Tom just learned what he really smells like? He came to my apartment once, and I don’t remember him smelling like wet cardboard.

Only because I’d just showered aforehand, John. [snort.gif]

LOL, but kinda.

If TCA inhibits some olfactory neurons but not others, it could explain the variability of how different people can sense/perceive it, and perhaps that same alteration would be a little like taking out only the “red” on a TV screen, with a drastically altered perception of the image from a single defect. TCA “smell” might be what gets unmasked when only a specific subset of neurons is affected. So, cork taint may be a perceptual phenomenon rather than it having a direct “scent.”

The variability from person to person is fascinating.

This is all just me talking out of my TCA-hole, of course! [cheers.gif]
I just made myself chortle, “my TCA-hole,” that’s a good one. champagne.gif

Hmm, I don’t think his statement “TCA has no smell” is true. Certainly you can smell pure TCA on its own, without being in wine (or anything else). It is an EXTREMELY pungent and strong aroma. Is he really saying that TCA only serves to amplify other aromas around you? Given that badly wine always smells the same - like TCA - that seems a non-starter on its face.

sounds like a Killgore Trout novel

I always thought it did, but everything I read says not true. “Odorless.”

From that link I posted: “The odor of TCA is not directly perceived.”

As I said, TCA is one of the strongest smelling compounds you will run into - don’t ever play with pure solid TCA, it will saturate the room. I don’t know how to reconcile that with the article.

Perhaps you simply need to stick it next to CORK to reveal its’ magic!

It makes no sense. I’ve read about a water supply that was noticeably tainted. That really contradicts what the article says.

Tom, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but I hope you’re very careful with that jar. I would never go near solid, pure TCA. Even diluted, that could really mess up your home.

This is a bit like reading on a wine writers web site two reviews of a wine, made a couple of months apart that award scores of 15 (no flaws noted) and 17.5.

I’m really confused how some say it’s super pungent and others that it has no aroma. Is this just a semantic issue, bit like whether black is a colour?

Clearly it has an impact on the olfactory system. Is that a sufficient definition of “smell”?

You might be right: That it’s something that’s usually coincidental to TCA that is being smelled. That might explain a few things. One is the claim that some wines are corked when there’s no musty smell. Other wines reek of it, but don’t seem muted at all. Of course, all of that is confused by a range in sensitivity (and susceptibility to “perceive” it at all). Also, while it’s sensical a more intense wine might only be partially muted while a more delicate wine fully muted, that correlation doesn’t always exist in relation to “how corked” a wine is.

Not sure if this is relevant, but I’m one who is unfortunately on the lower end of the ‘TCA spectrum’ (my wife is on the high end so that compensates). Especially when it’s a mild case, I tend to detect it as much from lack of fruit and a dullness on the palate as I do on the nose. Not sure if that relates to this discussion or not.

so this is all very interesting, but then what is the incredibly penetrating, musty moldy smell we all get when there is TCA there? Is this then just mold that is everywhere, but our threshold is now suddenly changed? then why, in a tasting of wines where one bottle is corked, do we not all of a sudden get this smell in every wine in the tasting, and why don’t all of the wines have that tart, fruit muted characteristic taste of a TCA affected wine? Sorry, I don’t really buy it.

This is a great explanation of why some very mildly corked wines just “lose their fruit”. I actually detected a corked wine at a winery by accident this way once - I’d had a bottle of the same thing a few nights before and the one at the winery was just, for lack of a better phrase, aromatically dead.

Just like black, white, and gray aren’t colors and optical illusions don’t really exist.

Of course TCA has a smell. Whether it arises from suppression or aberrant stimulation rather than traditional stimulation of olfactory receptors, the perception is there. If you smell pure TCA, you will say it has a very distinctive smell.

I thought it was an April Fools Dsy article!