In conversations about corks with winemakers, one refrain I often hear is that if a winery buys more expensive corks, it gets superior quality.
I’ve also heard from winemakers, and cork manufacturers, that the incidence of TCA-tainted corks (which impart a musty, moldy flavor to wine) is just as high for the most expensive corks as for the least expensive.
Here in the Napa office, we don’t know which corks in the bottles we receive cost the most, so we can’t conclusively determine whether expensive corks are superior in quality to cheaper versions. But, if we assume that the most expensive wines use more expensive corks, then here’s how the situation looks: First, in the past year ending April 1, we tasted 4,585 wines in our Napa office, with 388, or 8.5 percent (or on average about 1 bottle per 12-bottle case), that were judged to be flawed, mostly by obvious TCA taint. But in some instances lower levels of TCA were suspected, which simply makes a wine taste dull or flat (and that is often proven by tasting a second bottle, which is superior in quality). And some wines are oxidized, and when you have a young wine that is oxidized, cork is the usual suspect (proven as well by tasting a second bottle that’s fine).
Only three of the corked wines (less than 1 percent) sold for more than $200; 25 (or 6 percent) of the corked wines sold for $100 or more; 56 (or 14 percent) of the corked wines sold for $75 or more; 127 (or 33 percent) of those corked wines cost $50 or more. A total of 189 (or 48 percent) of wines that were corked sold for $40 or more.
At the other end of the price spectrum, seven (nearly 2 percent) of the corked wines were priced at $10 or less, and 30 (nearly 8 percent) sold for $15 or less. In all, a total of 199 of the corked wines sold for under $40.
This is admittedly an informal analysis, and the results may be somewhat skewed by the fact that we taste more wines in the $25 to $50 range than in any other price category.
Still, if there’s any correlation between the price of a wine and the quality and price of the cork chosen to seal it, it appears that TCA taint is perhaps as prevalent in higher-priced wines as in lesser-priced wines. That doesn’t necessarily answer the question as to whether expensive corks are superior to less expensive ones, but it points in the direction that they are not.
Daniel Grotto — April 17, 2008 3:10pm ET
Tony Tam — April 17, 2008 3:40pm ET
Ted Henry — Napa, CA — April 17, 2008 4:17pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 17, 2008 5:21pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 17, 2008 5:22pm ET
Roy Piper — April 17, 2008 6:10pm ET
Maryann Worobiec — Napa, CA — April 17, 2008 6:24pm ET
Bill Robinson — Calgary — April 17, 2008 7:24pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 17, 2008 8:03pm ET
Bryan So — CA — April 17, 2008 8:45pm ET
Jordan Harris — Niagara, Ontario — April 18, 2008 7:31am ET
Neil Monaghan — NY — April 18, 2008 12:50pm ET
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