Tainted Cork Woes

Corks are better than they used to be, but they'll never be perfect
Jan 17, 2014

A reader who is also a winemaker asked me about a new brand of cork this week, Diam 30, whose makers claim it will hold up for 30 years and guarantee it to be free of TCA taint.

I'm skeptical that there will ever be a perfect cork. Corks will always introduce the risk of a spoiled wine.

Most winemakers readily acknowledge that cork taint is widespread, and most say they are inspecting their corks with greater regularity, backed up by a steady decline in TCA taint over the past 10 years. But only a few vintners address the issue by using alternatives like twist-offs. (Their ranks are growing, however, despite a rare few making the switch back from screw caps to corks).

Meantime, countless wine-drinking experiences are ruined each year. Maybe worse, many TCA-tainted wines are tasted by unsuspecting consumers who simply decide that they don't like the wine, as in, it's not a style of wine that appeals to them.

We've been keeping track of the number of California wines we suspect are flawed by cork taint in Wine Spectator's Napa office since 2005. In 2013, after five consecutive years of steady decline, the incidence of cork taint rose by about half a percentage point.

This past year, of the 4,347 California wines reviewed in blind tastings, 427 came under twist-offs, leaving 3,920 under cork, of which 167, or 4.26 percent, were suspected of TCA taint. It's nowhere near our high-water mark of 9.5 percent in 2007, but it's an increase nonetheless, and wine drinkers should be wary.

Cork Taint Rate in Wine Spectator's Blind California Wine Tastings

2013: 4.26 percent tainted

2012: 3.67 percent tainted

2011: 3.8 percent tainted

2010: 4.8 percent tainted

2009: 6.9 percent tainted

2008: 7.5 percent tainted

2007: 9.5 percent tainted

2006: 7.0 percent tainted

2005: 7.5 percent tainted

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