Saturday, August 13, 2011

Corked Wines: A Reflection on Disappointment

Corked! Nothing worse than popping a much-anticipated bottle of wine and discovering it is spoiled! We've all heard the word 'corked', but how many people actually know what it means, really? Most people I've asked think it has to do with a wine's cork closure actually failing in some way. While this is partially true (the cork failed to remain neutral towards the wine), the term 'corked' refers to the presence of TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) in the wine, most commonly from a tainted cork closure, or 'cork taint'. TCA has a very distinctive odor, most commonly described as wet newspaper/cardboard, damp shoe leather, wet dog, or musty basement. In other words, it is not pleasant, especially in a wine!

Ever wonder why there are so many alternative wine closures showing up on store shelves these days? Examples are Stelvin, or screwcaps, Vino-Lok/Vino-Seal, or glass corks, Zork, which is a bulbous plastic cork from Australia, and a myriad of synthetic/plastic corks. The stats don't lie: The number of corked wines from alternative closures is next to nothing, and if they are corked, typically the source of TCA in wine sealed with an alternative closure is NOT from the actual closure, but from a tainted barrel or something else within the winery itself. What percentage of wines are corked? I've read 1-3% as the normal range. A fellow wine blogger, Sean Sullivan of Washington Wine Report, has a running Corked Counter for 2011, where he documents his experiences with corked wines (he tastes a LOT of wine). As of July 2011, he had tasted 835 wines, with 26 being corked, for a corked rate of around 3%. But what about my personal experience?

After opening a corked wine this evening, I decided to take a look at my wine consumption history, using Eric Levine's wonderful tool, CellarTracker, which I've been using religiously since late 2007 to track my wine purchases and consumption. Here's the breakdown of my personal wine consumption and corked rate, by year.

  • 2007 (Oct-Dec): 71 bottles consumed, 0 corked.
  • 2008: 283 bottles consumed, 5 corked = 1.8% corked rate.
  • 2009: 297 bottles consumed, 6 corked = 2.0% corked rate.
  • 2010: 262 bottles consumed, 4 corked = 1.5% corked rate.
  • 2011 (Jan-Aug): 125 bottles consumed, 3 corked = 2.4% corked rate.
Out of 1,038 wines personally consumed over roughly 3 years, 18 were corked, for a corked rate of 1.73%. Cost of these 18 corked wines came to $430.50, and I was able to get refunds on 2 of them that totaled $56. So my overall financial loss due to corked wines is $374.50. That's certainly no small number, even over 3 years.

I'm curious to hear from readers if anyone has experienced a corked wine, and what your thoughts are on traditional cork vs alternative closures. Comments are appreciated!

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