Cork Taint Gone? Don't Bet On It

Producer claims TCA no longer an issue
Aug 17, 2009

First, the recession ended. Now TCA is gone from corks.

File both of these claims in the same category. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Maybe the recession is over, and maybe cork producers' claims that TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) taint in corks—which can give musty aromas and flavors to wine—has all but vanished is true, but I wouldn't count on it. In the case of the latter, it's the world's largest producer of natural cork closures making the claim and touting it as news.

AMORIM of Portugal says, "a leading American professor of enology and a respected wine judge" has stated that TCA is no longer a major problem for the United States wine industry "both from a consumer and winemaker perspective." According to AMORIM, Professor Christian Butzke of Purdue believes (based on his experience reviewing thousands of wines submitted to a wine competition) that cork has achieved a performance rate exceeding 99 percent -- that is, there is almost no trace whatsoever of TCA in the corks he examined.

The great debate over cork's merits and drawbacks is one of the wine world's most divisive issues. Some people love them, and the "romance" they bring to the wine-drinking experience. They can’t imagine wine without corks. Others, including an increasingly large number of winemakers and consumers, detest cork and its variability and unpredictability. While some wines age perfectly well under cork, most of us know all too well that a wine badly tainted by TCA is undrinkable, and that even at very low levels, TCA can mute a wine's flavors and turn a great wine into a bland one.

Most of the debate about TCA levels in corks is a tossup between so-called "scientific analysis" – which can measure TCA and at what levels people can detect it – and the anecdotal experience that people share about their bad cork encounters.

At our office in Napa, where we review thousands of wines each year, we track the number of corked wines and that figure has consistently been in the 6 to 7 percent range, just slightly less than one bottle per case.

If TCA is really disappearing from corks, that would be news to me. I'd count on an economic recovery before cork taint is eliminated.

Closures Corks Wine Flaws TCA

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