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how often are your wines corked?

these days i'm running at - wild guess - about 1 in 20 for my everyday drinking. it used to be in 1 in 10 not so long ago .. am i lucky or has something changed? (of course this number is modulo plastic corks etc).

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  1. Haven't been documenting it but my WAG for recently purchased wines sealed with natural cork is similar to or a little less than yours. The corked rate is definitely higher for wines from my cellar, i.e. purchased 10 or 20 years ago, which may indicate that it's not luck, that something has changed.

    1. I was running about 1:12, but this was mainly in our "house wines." They have since begun using Stelvin, so the number has dropped. However, I have had 3:48 with recent purchases at a local wine shop & Costco. To date, I've only had one of ANY of my older reds (my biggest fear) over the last 5 years.

      Talking with several winemakers, most feel that the occurance is 1:12, though a few go so high as 1:6. My experience runs in the 1:12 range.


      1. Somewhere between 5-8% . . . the incidence has declined somewhat *not* due to "better" corks, but rather through the use of screwcaps (Stelvins).

        1 Reply
        1. re: zin1953

          As a side-note, I had my first red under Stelvin, the Two Hands, Gnarley Dudes Shiraz. Playing around with this wine, I'd speculate that it was vinted for early-consumption, so all was good. Just my first red with Stelvin - probably many more to come.


        2. 7%-9% of my cork closures wind up corked.

          1. I've never had anything near that many. I've been drinking wine for about six years or so, and in that time I've had three corked bottles at home, another in a restaurant and another in a wine shop tasting. Maybe I've been lucky.

            24 Replies
            1. re: djdebs

              Yes. Consider yourself very lucky.

              1. re: djdebs

                My understanding is that sometimes corked bottles are difficult to identify. The wine tastes dull or boring rather than musty, and you'd never know the problem was that it was corked unless you knew the wine well, or had another bottle to compare it to.

                I've had a similar experience to you, and although I consider myself pretty lucky, I'm thinking it's more likely I didn't know the bottles were corked.

                1. re: oolah

                  2,4,6-trichloranisole is a compound to which human beings are extremely sensitive to -- it is measured in parts per TRILLION. That said, you are absolutely correct that at extremely low levels, a corked wine will seem "dull" and the fruit "muted," rather than overtly smelling of a "musty, dank cellar" or a "wet dog." (And I was thinking the very same thing!) ;^)

                  1. re: zin1953

                    So that brings up an interesting question: are you (and the others on this thread) counting those subtly corked bottles in your total count? 1 in 12 seems REALLY high.

                    For me, the ratio has been about 1 in every 40 bottles. As I said, I may be missing some of the subtly corked wines, but I also tend to drink younger stuff (rarely more than 10 years old), and like jonasblank, buy 99% of my wine from wine shops and restaurants that use quality producers and importers and take good care of their inventory.

                    Can these precautions save you from corked wine?

                    1. re: oolah

                      Sensitivity to TCA varies greatly from person to person. I know people (mostly women) who can detect a tainted bottle when it is uncorked at the other end of the table. I also remember a tasting where a guy with an otherwise demonstrably fine palate was enthusing over and enthusiastically drinking a wine that had everyone else in the room dumping their glasses without taking a sip.

                      With all respect to jonasblank, TCA taint has nothing to do with how a wine is stored or the reputability of wine shops or even the cost or origin of the wine. Its source is the cork and, in my experience, cheap and expensive corks are affected equally. Some of my saddest corked experiences have to do with highfalutin wines: I recall one tasting where a 1982 Margaux, which was then retailing for over $1K and which couldn't be returned since it had been purchased years before, was corked to high heaven.

                      Poor storage can result in damaged wines, most notably cooked wines, but not TCA-tainted bottles.

                      edit: www.chowhound.com/topics/378215

                      1. re: carswell

                        Thanks, carswell. The most likely answer then is what I originally suspected -- that I am not perceiving the cork taint as cork taint, but instead reading it as a dull wine. Seems like I may have to give some wines I've dismissed a second chance.

                        1. re: carswell

                          Well said.

                          My 7%-9% included the slightly corked bottles. I would say the number of bottles I get that are really badly corked is about half of that.

                          I find that women, by and large, have better palates then men, so I'm not surprised that you have found it mostly women that can smell a corked bottle from across the room. Twice, however, I have walked into a room and instantly smelled that a bottle was open and corked.

                        2. re: oolah

                          "Subtly corked" is a bit like being "slightly pregnant." It either is or it isn't, and slightly corked wines may escape detection UNLESS one has a second bottle to try on the spot.

                          In wine competitions, if any one of the judges thinks a wine *may* be tainted with TCA, we ALWAYS get a new bottle to open. With TCA at extremely low concentrations, it is not uncommon for only one of the panel to initially notice the taint -- but when the second bottle is opened, it's obvious to everyone!

                          >>> Can these precautions save you from corked wine? <<<

                          NO, absolutely NOT!

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Just a note on this- especially on older bottles there are a number of deep reds that will appear to be corked in the first little bit, but after being decantered and allowed to sit for an hour or two the symptoms are no longer there. Just be cautious before you end up throwing that 1k bottle of wine down the sink.

                            1. re: zin1953

                              For once, I will have to disagree with you,regarding your first statement. The degree of TCA contamination can vary from almost non-detectable, to "make you fall on your knees." Even as sensitive as I am, there have been a few bottles, that I needed to consult my wine on. She's about 90% as sensitive (to TCA), as I. There have been a few, that exhibited none of the normal characteristics, on the nose, but just were not right. In each of *these* cases, I always had another bottle of the same wine, which confirmed that the acids were not "supposed" to be that elevated, and that there was fruit missing.

                              I feel that a wine can be "a little bit corked," and have experienced it on too many occasions.


                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                I think you missed my point, or I didn't express myself well -- take your pick (it's probably the latter).

                                As I said in a different post above:

                                >>>> 2,4,6-trichloranisole is a compound to which human beings are extremely sensitive to -- it is measured in parts per TRILLION . . . at extremely low levels, a corked wine will seem "dull" and the fruit "muted," rather than overtly smelling of a "musty, dank cellar" or a "wet dog." <<<<

                                My point in the instant case (that a wine is either corked or it isn't -- there's no such think as being "slightly pregnant") is that no amount of cork taint is acceptable -- even if at very low levels and the fruit is "muted" and/or "dull," the wine is tainted and should be returned. (You can see a woman who is twelve weeks pregnant and still not notice; but she's pregnant nonetheless.)


                                1. re: zin1953

                                  Sorry, I misunderstood. OK, so I'm back to agreeing with you 100%! I see your point, and just missed it above. Thank you for the clarification. I had read that there were no "levels" of pregancy, uh, taint.


                            2. re: oolah

                              For me, yes. Any TCA, and the effects of scalping count. I have to admit that I am very sensitive to it, and my wife is just behind me. I doubt that we've ever had a bottle get past us, though a few have taken both to make the final conclusion.

                              As for age, my experience tells me that it's not that relevant to TCA. Most of the examples, that I have encountered have been young wines. In all of my years, I have only had one "corked" older wine, and it was a Southern Rhône red.

                              The volume of "corked" bottles seems to be proportional to the quantity purchased in wine shops, big-box (Costco, in my case) and fine-dining restaurants. I have discussed the topic of shipping, storage, etc. with many winemakers, all of whom had a very vested interest in NOT having "corked" wines. I had thought that the heat in AZ might have had something to do with the higher incident of TCA-taint, than I had experienced in CO. All stated that their returns were the same/quantity shipped, in all states, hot, or cold. Now, this was not a controlled experiment, only conversations with the folk most concerned, and trying to do something about it.

                              Just some observations,

                            3. re: zin1953

                              Regarding perception of TCA: there is a test that's used to identify your specific threshold for identifying TCA. There is a control “uncontaminated wine”, then other glasses doctored with various levels of TCA to measure just exactly where your threshold is. (Interestingly, I just took this test today!)

                              If you're at all wondering if a wine is corked, or if it is "borderline" corked, two other easy tests can reveal the answer: is the fruit flattened or diminished, and is the acidity low? If these things are true along with that distinctive mustiness (even just a faint whiff of it) the wine is usually corked.

                              Often, I believe, consumers can taste a wine that just seems uninteresting or dull, and not like the wine, or the brand forever, when what they tasted was a corked wine and they weren't able to identify it as such.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                I will often keep a tainted bottle on hand, to share with wine-geek friends, who may not have had the experience, with a name to add to the fault. It does not take much, but friends should not let friends drink "corked" wine.

                                As for sensitivity, I've stopped waiters with trays of wine-by-the-glass, as they passed me in the restaurant, and told them that one, or more, was "corked." I get a ton of Thank Yous, when the bartender, or whomever, confirms my call, and pulls that bottle out of circulation.


                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  Any specifics on how/where one might do such a test? I open maybe 6-700 bottles a year in tastings and have not recognized (nor have the tasters) anything like 6-8% TCA. If it's an issue of perception threshhold or just simply calling it "dull" wine I'd really like to find out more about how to tell the difference. So many wines have musty/dusty noses that are 'supposed' to be that way and their fruit can be subtle to bold. I've smelled what is supposed to be TCA (in one of those Nez du Vin wine fault kits) but I can't say that it did much good for my perception skills.

                                  Can anyone reference any source for a method of getting better at distinguishing this fault?

                                  1. re: Midlife

                                    Years ago, a wine shop was holding a series of tastings. One bottle was "corked." It was passed around for analysis, and the aroma hit me like a ton of bricks. It was something that I never forgot and found that I can pick it up, when most do not, even at a distance. Fortunately, we also had another bottle, that was good, so an A-B comparison was easy and very, very informative. I try to do the same, when confronted with a bad bottle and a crowd, who wants to learn.

                                    I think that the best way to learn about TCA contamination and it effects, is to actually open one and pass it around.

                                    Right now, my poor wife is distraught, because she picked up 6 btls. of white the other day from a small wine shop near us. Of the 6, two were "corked," one a Puligney-Montrachet, the other a Kistler Sonoma Chard. Now she thinks that she's jinxed.

                                    My rough guess is that I was running about 1:12, but then Conundrum went under Stelvin, and the total in the household dropped (wife's recent purchases excepted). I have been given figures from 4% - 12% by winemakers/winery owners, so I guess that my 1:12 wasn't too far off.

                                    BTW, my wife's recent purchase was of 6 totally different wines, however, I do not think that I can ask her to "pick up a few interesting whites, on your way home," at least not for a while.

                                    Are you in a state, that allows shipping? Reason that I ask, is that if I got a corked bottle, that was not worth trip back to the shop for a return, I'd be glad to ship it to you for a "control." However, I do not want to be convicted of a felony, by shipping a corked bottle of wine!


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      I'm in California so, yes I can receive wine shipments. I have had wines that I knew were corked and one that was probably Bretts, but so few that I'm sure we're all missing it more often than not. There are also wines that have a distinct mustiness when first opened but that blows off after 30 minutes or so. I've been told that's called "Bottle Funk" by 'experts'. I don't for a minute think we're immune to TCA so it's got to be lack of recognition.

                                      If you do get a corked bottle soon it would be great to have. You can e-mail me at the address I use for alt.food.wine [midlife@cox.net] and I'll send you an address and I have a FedEx account for you to use too.

                                      1. re: Midlife

                                        I'll keep my nose out, and see if I can get a "classic" example for you to use as a reference. No promises though. If the Kistler and the Puligney-Montrachet had not been a tad expensive, and the shop, just over the hill, I'd have used either of those. However, we've had a few lately, and not all with $$$ price tags. OTOH, maybe my offer will now keep me from encountering one for a decade. You know, kinda' like wanting to CATCH a stoplight, so you can do something - never fails, all the lights are green, and for miles! [Grin]


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt


                                          Thanks so muhc, but I think I've got it covered.

                                          I've asked a couple of wholesaler reps to save me some corked sample bottles. I had thought they need to turn them back in, but apparently they don't. I really want to get into this because I thought I had a pretty good nose except for this issue that has bothered me for a long time.

                                          1. re: Midlife

                                            Yes, it sounds as though you have it covered. If not, let me know. I think that once you get the olfactory imprint in your mind, you will not soon forget it.


                                            1. re: Midlife

                                              Midlife, could you please post about your experience after you try this? I'm in the same boat as you and would love to hear how your test goes.

                                      2. re: Midlife

                                        Cork taint is a very distinctive smell -- almost as distinctive a smell as singed hair -- and once you smell it and *get it* you never forget it. Over time, you'll be able to pick it out in lower and lower parts per trillion. Now, I am more and more suspect of any mustiness in wine -- especially if the fruit is dull. Hunt's a sweetie pie offering to send you a bottle of corked wine, but it might be simpler to walk into a wine store, explain that you'd like to be able to identify TCA, and ask if they have a badly corked bottle around so that you can lock in the smell. It's something every wine drinker should be able to detect. You might also ask to smell a slightly corked bottle for comparison -- the same smell, just less of it. Good luck, midlife!

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          Whenever I'm teaching wine courses and someone asks me about corked wines, I usually say "Just wait," and leave it at that. Over the course of a six- or eight-week class, I know I'm bound to pop open a corked wine and when it "arrives," I pour it for everyone without a word . . . I'm sure not one of my students has ever forgotten it either! ;^)

                              2. I think it depends a great deal on where and what you buy. As to "what", in my personal experience, cheap French wines (or for that matter, all French wines) seem particularly prone to corking, which I would guess owes to the longer shipping distance, and what I consider to be a lack of quality control in their lower-end wines (and on the positive side, the less intrusive winemaking methods they are known for). Plastic and screwcap wines do seem less susceptible. I spread the wealth in terms of where my wines come from, but I'd guess my ratio is at about 1:20, and I have all but stopped purchasing lower-end (sub-$20) French wines, since I've had the most problems with them.

                                As to "where," I tend to buy only from established, reputable wine shops (which is fairly easy since I live in New York City) or vineyard direct. Unless I am traveling, I never purchase wine from grocery stores, Costco, Sam's Club, Trader Joe's, or that sort of thing. When I've lived elsewhere and had to avail myself of these type of venues, I'd say it ran closer to 1:8, which I would suspect owes to subpar storage and handling.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: jonasblank

                                  Several *controlled* experiments, along with a great deal of annecdotal evidence, would suggest that where you purchase your wine has absolutely NOTHING whatsoever to do with the rate of taint.

                                  For example: a winery bottles 20,000 cases of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Some corks are contaminated with TCA (approximately 5-8 percent). The cases are shipped RANDOMLY to wholesalers across the nation -- x number of pallets go to Winebow for sale in New York and New Jersey, y number of pallets go to United in Massachussettes, and z number of pallets go to Southern in Florida. Winebow breaks down the pallets and, upon getting orders for the wine, delivers some cases to Chambers, some to Astor, some to Sam's; United does the same thing; so does Southern . . . how can the corked bottles ONLY end up at Costco?!?!?!

                                  Simple. They can't!

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    I've had, maybe six bottles, that got past the staff in winery tasting rooms. Now, that's from a lot of tasting, but think about it - if the winery tasting room has corked wine, what difference could it make who sells the wine?

                                    Annecdotal, yes, but something to ponder,

                                  2. re: jonasblank

                                    plastic and stelvin obviously cannot be corked, because they are inorganic materials.

                                    as zin has already stated, where you buy the wine makes no difference. the taint occurs from the cork, at the winery. my understanding of costco is that it has a very serious wine program. i'd buy from there before a mom-and-pop shop that lacked proper storage.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      Wines sealed with plastic or screwtop closures are not immune to TCA, because corks are not the only source In some cases entire cellars can be affected, in which case the TCA gets into the wine before it is bottled. Several wineries have spent huge sums of money to "disinfect" their cellars after discovering an endemic problem with TCA. I suspect that this is more widespread than generally acknowledged.

                                      1. re: Sam B

                                        Yes, BV and at least two Bdx. Chateaux have had to do this, usually having to tear out new barrel-rooms, etc. It can happen in the absence of cork. In the cited cases, the problem was not 1 btl./case, but case, upon case.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          Yeahbut even in those cases, it's not clear that the corks weren't the vector for contaminating the wine. And there are other compounds that can produce TCA-like taint. "TBA (see tribromoanisole) also creates musty aromas in wine but is caused by contamination from the winery environment. This tallies with the observation that 'cork taint' can come from other sources than the cork, most notably from wooden structures in wineries that have been chemically treated, though the taint may still be transferred to the wine via the secondary contamination of the cork. But despite a few fairly high-profile instances of winery contamination, it seems the cork is the culprit in the vast majority of cases." -Oxford Companion to Wine

                                          1. re: carswell

                                            This could well be, however the corks, in the cited BV instance, came from several lots. Were all bad? I do not know, but BV did a rebuild of their barrel room to attack the problem, as did at least 2 Bdx. properties.

                                            Was the cork the villan, or as Maria Lorraine (below) suggests, just the vehicle. I do not know.

                                            Not to, in any way, discredit an esteemed expert on the subject, it seems unlikely to me, and to the myriad of winemakers that I have consulted with, that a cork, with capsule, would allow contaminants to enter at so rapid a pace. However, stranger things have happened.

                                            As to the "heat" aspect, this was a pet theory of mine (AZ vs CO), but all dismissed this as a culprit. Were they wrong? Who knows.


                                  3. I rarely disagree with zin1953 -- I enjoy his posts so much -- but I beg to differ here about cork taint not being affected by location -- where the wine is made, stored or purchased.

                                    Some news, and very surprising to me:

                                    Cork taint, TCA, is not only caused by contaminated cork. It may be that TCA is *rarely* caused by contaminated cork.

                                    If the winery, warehouse, storage facility or wine store uses chlorine bleach to sanitize or clean its shelves, walls, tanks, hoses, surfaces, etc., that releases enough chlorine into the air to interact with mold and *create* tri-CHLORO-anisole. This airborne TCA then contaminates the wine through the barrel or cork, which both “breathe”. Place does matter, as do cleaning practices.

                                    Wine chemists are now curious about the incidence of “cork-tainted” wine” caused by truly “contaminated” corks vs. the incidence of "cork taint" caused by airborne TCA that merely enters the wine *through* the cork. Very possibly, the way a Stelvin screw-cap closure reduces the incidence of TCA is simply by allowing less air into the bottle.

                                    TCA, in addition, has several cousins that all have that musty, moldy “corked” smell and that are often mistaken for TCA. TBA (tribromoanisole) in particular smells very similar to TCA, with the same mustiness but with a “vegetal” component, for lack of better description. It’s difficult to tell the two apart. There’s also TeCA (tetrachloroanisole) and PCA (pentachloroanisole). All belong to a family of compounds called haloanisoles.

                                    These three “cousin” compounds are created when common wood preservatives (halophenols) interact with common airborne molds. TBP, a common wood treatment, causes TBA, the taint most similar to cork taint. Wine is often stored on, in or near treated wood -- in the form of store shelves, home storage units, wine cabinets, wood pallets and structural materials -- creating the perfect setting for forming these TCA-cousin compounds that then find their way through the cork into the wine.

                                    Again, place makes a difference, or more specifically, the wood in that place. What's more, high temperature and humidity in a place accelerate the growth of haloanisoles.

                                    So it may be that particular stores, like Costco, or certain warehouses, have the perfect conditions for creating TCA and TCA-cousin taints. It may be that these large warehouses or stores simply use more chlorine bleach for cleaning, and therein lies the rub. The place may have very much to do with the percentage of cork-tainted bottles. BTW, Europe has more problems with TCA and its cousins than the U.S.

                                    As you see, the cork may not be the problem at all. The problem may be that the cork “breathes” in the airborne constituents of its chlorine-sanitized, wood-treated environment. To address the problem, some wineries are no longer using chlorine bleach to clean their hoses or tanks or even wash their linens. Some are taking other abative, corrective actions regarding their use of wood. Are stores, warehouses, home wine collectors next?

                                    I learned all this in a class taught *today* by wine-flaw chemist Pascal Chatonnet from Excell Laboratory in France. Please Google him for more information or click on the haloanisoles link at ETS Laboratories in Napa Valley at http://www.etslabs.com/pagetemplate/b...

                                    Edit: Just read Carswell's Oxford Companion quote...Jancis Robinson often uses Dr. Chatonnet as her source.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      WOW! What an interesting thread!

                                      I am one of those hyper sensitive people when it comes to TCA. I can detect it from a mile away (ok, maybe 500 feet).

                                      Wineries have spent MILLIONS on erraticating this incredibly costly problem. Most wineries do a QA on all corks before they go to the bottling line. The fact is TCA can and does live in a winery. It can be found in the drains, it gets into cardboard, and can infect wood. Hanzell, BV and a host of others can attest to this.

                                      For more information on TCA, read James Laube's blog at winespectator.com. Jim seems to be hypersensitive to TCA as well.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        Maria, the only problem with your post -- and I agree with 99% of it -- is that in a situation like Costco, we are talking about BOTTLED wine. The wine is already in a sealed container. This is quite a different situation than existed at Beaulieu Vineyards and the two châteaux in Bordeaux, where it was treated wood that caused the TBA (in all likelihood the culprit) to contaminate the wine while still in BARREL.

                                        It is extremely difficult for a wine to be contaminated once in bottle . . . unless it was contaminated prior to being bottled.

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          I agree that it is a mystery how the taint gets past the capsule and into the cork...if it does...but Chatonnet yesterday said it was a possibility. How often this occurs or if stores, home wine collectors, should be concerned, I don't know. More research is certainly needed. Agree that Beaulieu's systemic infection was probably TBA -- but I need to read Laube's blog, as recommended by chickstein.

                                        2. re: maria lorraine

                                          Forgive my naivete.

                                          I thought all wineries switched to peroxide as their cleaning agent. And also removed as much rubber as possible to avoid contamination.

                                          Arent corks bleached with peroxide also.

                                          1. re: tom porc

                                            Tom, I don't know the answer to your question about all wineries using peroxide or some non-chlorine agent to clean. Same about rubber. Cork companies have certainly abandoned chlorine-washing of corks, and I've heard some mention of peroxide being used, but don't know if that's still current, of if they're using something else now. I'm asking some follow-up questions now of the folks I've recently talked to, and if I can find out more, I'll post it.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              Thanks. No need to go to a lot of trouble. I just thought that since everyone in the industry has a vested interest to prevent corked wine that they developed ways to minimize if not eradicate the chance of contamination. From what I read here some have up to 8% corked wine. That's a lot of product wasted.

                                          2. re: maria lorraine

                                            "the cork may not be the problem at all." Maria, I too support much of what you posted but I could introduce you (if you aren't already acquainted) to a very, very respected California winemaker who will bend your ear about the pro-active internal tests done in his and other fine-wine facilities to isolate problem sources. This includes an exhaustive sampling of incoming cork supply, which catches nascent TCA sources in some lots and precludes their use (as well as providing feedback to their manufacturers).

                                            Anecdotally (this would only cover a few hundred bottles) I've had a very low incidence of corked wines, possibly zero, from that winery, via multiple sales channels.

                                            Other comments here mentioned different abilities to detect TCA. A couple of food scientists at UC Davis have mentioned their own apparent handicap at this. And a natural sensitivity to corkiness among some women was pointed out even in Saintsbury's introductory wine book (1920), interestingly -- possibly before they understood haloanisoles.

                                          3. 1. Found around 5-8% in the last 10 years of blind tastings of some hundreds of young wines a year, every wine different, many provenances. (I don't track the rate except at tastings, which is easy.) Very experienced tasters, mostly professionals, and usually almost everyone notes the corkiness independently before comparing notes. It seems to have dropped a little in the last couple of years, and more than I can account for by the incursion German and screw closures. (There's industry talk of more care in general about this now with cork closures.)

                                            2. A European editor doing large comparative tastings of certain wines reported horrific percentages exceeding 10% and higher in some runs, a couple of years back. There was some ferment about this issue among restaurateurs there.

                                            3. It seems as if these numbers routinely surprise some readers in public discussions like this but they're well documented and cut across various countries and wine types.