Bad Corks? They're Still With Us

Jan 6, 2009

There are days in our tasting room in Napa when we think the cork jinx might be broken, and by cork jinx, of course, I mean TCA-tainted corks. We'll go through a flight or two of wines and there won't be any spoiled wines. Then the curse returns.

Moldy, defective corks have been perhaps the biggest curse facing our generation of wine drinkers. Sure, high prices are a deterrent to many drinkers, and scarcity makes it a hassle to obtain some wines. And occasionally a wine goes haywire with brettanomyces or volatile acidity.

But there’s nothing quite like paying for a wine and then opening it only to find the wine is spoiled by TCA’s signature moldy newspaper scent.

A few years ago we decided that it was important to track the number of "corked" wines we taste in Napa over the course of a year, if for no other reason than to measure the failure rate and to track whether things were getting better or worse.

In 2008, Tim Fish, MaryAnn Worobiec and I combined to review more than 3,600 wines and, by our figures, 7.5 percent of the cork-sealed wines were flawed. We didn’t include the nearly 240 wines with twist offs.

The good news, if you could call it that, is that that 7.5 percent figure is 21 percent lower than the previous year’s total, which ran at 9.5 percent.

The bad news is the prior year’s figure was 7 percent and the year before that it was 7.5 percent. Why bother with all this?

Well, the cork industry insists the percentage of "TCA-tainted" corks is 1 percent or less, a figure that’s seemingly well below what we’ve experienced.

To further put things in perspective, if you round out 7 percent, that’s about an average of one bottle per 12-bottle case, a figure I’m sure all of you would find unacceptable.

Closures Wine Flaws TCA

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