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"X% of wines are corked."

I was browsing another thread ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/803940 ) which recalled to me an oft-bandied claim/statistic that supposes some surprising percentage (e.g. 5%, 10%) of wines are corked.

In a word: is it true?

I have never knowingly tasted or managed to identify a corked wine--I know it happens and have heard/seen many descriptions of corking's flavour 'profile', just never has it obviously occurred in a bottle that I've encountered. So I'm wondering if anyone knows whether the figure is based upon someone's random-sampling chemical analysis revealing TCA in many wines, or if rather it comes from some discerning taster's / tasters' experiences running through several wines and tallying results? Or is it just a 'fuzzy-recall/estimate' statistic thrown out when a conversation seems lacking in hyperbole?

(I think that was many more words than I set out to write.

)

(Afterthought: before you light into my ignorant palate, I am not a prodigious wine taster, and all relevant corollaries etc.)

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  1. absolutely true. 5-10% are noticeably corked to most everyone who knows what to look for. another 10-15% are corked below most people's threshold but are lacking fruit and will show noticeable differences if another bottle of the same wine that is not affected with tca were poured alongside.

    maybe not a scientifically carried out study but i have done this for forty years and i am absolutely certain the above is true.

    in addition tca is only only one of the ill effects that can come from cork. the other ill effects of cork show progressively more as bottle age.

    1. The highest percentage I ever experienced professionally was just under 20 percent. Generally speaking, however, the 5-10 percent figure is the norm.

      1. 5% is low. I would say at least 8 to 10% of wines using traditional cork closures are obviously corked to me. There are always those "threshold" bottles, though, where it seems a bit off, but you cannot be sure why...

        61 Replies
        1. re: whiner

          Which begs the question, who should take it in the shorts for a corked bottle? Vintner, distributor, retailer, or consumer?
          I returned a corked porto, about $85, to a merchant in Manhattan, who agreed with one sniff that it was bad. He offered a replacement of the same, I suggested a $57 alternative, that we should share the misfortune. He reeled back with friendly consideration.
          So, how should the bad luck be divided?

          1. re: Veggo

            Veggo,

            Most recently purchased corked bottles can be returned at the distributer / winery's expense. Having worked in wine retail I can assure you that the majority of reputable distributers refund, in full, corked bottles of wine.

            That said, obviously older bottles do not work this way and the question may become dicier.

            So long as both the customer and the retailer have the same understanding from the outset, I don't think there is a problem.

            1. re: whiner

              Thanks for the reply, whiner. I expect that most corked bottles are discovered well past the verifiable customer-merchant transaction.
              But the question of how the pain should be shared I think is a fair one. There is no fault, and the customer should not be immune. We need a rule!
              JMO

              1. re: whiner

                As I've said all along, the only time customers have a hard time returning corked bottles is when it comes to older bottles. Then, it ends up being -- in no small part -- up to the relationship that exists between customer and retailer.

                As a former retailer myself, I knowingly accepted older bottles -- bottles I knew that I could NOT return -- for store credit, because the relationship between that customer and our store was one I wanted to keep!

                Two conditions applied, however: 1) I knew the bottle indeed came from my store, and 2) I only refunded purchase price as store credit, not current market value.

                Fortunately, I never had to deal with someone bringing back a bottle after five or more years in their personal cellar, let alone something like a 1963 Vintage Porto. I suspect -- but can only guess -- that items 1) and 2) above would still apply, but clearly it would be *my* store eating the cost. No refund would be coming from the producer in a case such as that.

                Cheers,
                Jason

              2. re: Veggo

                >>> Which begs the question, who should take it in the shorts for a corked bottle? Vintner, distributor, retailer, or consumer? <<<

                In an IDEAL world? None of the above.

                Presuming that the source of TCA contamination is indeed the cork, it's the cork producer that should bear the financial cost for a "corked" bottle. After all, it is the cork that ruined the wine, and the winery purchased the corks with every expectation that the product should work as advertised, rather than ruin the wine.

                Now, of course, this ignores the fact there are more potential sources of TCA contamination and "corked" bottles than just the cork . . .

                So the reality is that -- unless there is something seriously out of the norm with a particular batch of corks -- it's the winery/importer that (ultimately) pays for it. Wineries have indeed sued cork suppliers/producers in the past, but normally, the winery/importer writes it off as a part of their "sample allowance."

                The retail store accepts the bottle from the customer; the wholesaler issues a credit to the retailer; the winery/importer issues a credit to the wholesaler.

                Or, at least, that's how it is supposed to work.

                In reality, either the customer never returns the bottle, and they "eat" it; or the retailer accepts the bottle for a refund, and the retailer "eats" it.

                Cheers,
                Jason

                1. re: zin1953

                  Is it more a problem for natural cork vs. plastic/composit corks?

                  1. re: budnball

                    Natural cork can suffer from TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). TCB (2,4,6-Tribromoanisole) is another contaminant that corks can suffer from. Composite corks can also be "infected" with TCA or TCB -- whether they are amalgam or twin-top. Even Altec corks -- made from supposedly purified cork impervious to TCA -- suffered from off-odors (they made the wine smell like plastic band-aids).

                    Plastic corks have their own problems.

                    Purely plastic/artificial closures ALSO suffer from flaws. The original SupremeCorq *sucked*; its "new and improved" X2 wasn't much better, IMHO. Nomacorc is better, in my experience, but in terms of long-term aging, here, too, the jury is still out.

                    1. re: budnball

                      My research says that today TCA and TBA are more often from the winery environment than from the cork, meaning the closure has no bearing on wine that was "corked" before it was bottled.

                      Being particular about cork-sourcing is part of a winery's quality control efforts to avoid "corked" wine. Many wineries perform batch tests on corks to make sure the corks are clean. (Bottle four cases of wine, wait 6 weeks and send the bottles to a lab.) It should be said that cork producers have really stepped up their game to produce clean corks -- an entire industry is at risk -- and the cork industry has in the last five years become extremely strict about sanitation and vigilant about not exposing the cork to harmful substances.

                      Another quality-control tactic in the winery: not using chlorine-based compounds to clean -- these combine with airborne fungi to form TCA. Yet another: not using specific wood preservatives on the many wood surfaces in a winery -- these wood preservatives combine with airborne fungi to form TBA. The two are so similar that I'd bet 98 people out of 100 think TBA is TCA. The TCA and TBA are in the air of a winery and can infect the wine long before cork ever hits bottle.

                      These three QC tactics are essential to avoid tainted wine. To not take these precautions puts the winery at financial risk. Since wines can be off or contaminated via many paths other than the cork, the responsibility for any off or damaged wine ultimately rests with the winery. If a retailer ever gives a customer difficulty about returning a wine, the first recourse is to contact the winery directly.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        ML --

                        I'll certainly defer to you in terms of current research. As you well know, it wasn't all that long ago that cork suppliers *did* use chlorine in manufacturing corks. Shifting away from chlorine-based manufacturing, however, has not lowered the overall rate-of-taint.

                        And while wood preservatives have been linked to specific "outbreaks" if increased levels of taint at certain wineries, again, I would say that -- based upon my personal experience (bottles I open at home and/or I have in restaurants, with friends, etc.) as well as my professional experience (at wine tastings, competitions, etc.), the overall rate-of-taint has remained relatively constant.

                        Thus, I remain convinced that cork manufacturers still bear a significant role in corked wines. And as such, while I reject the idea that the *primary* responsibility rests with the winery -- absent any "smoking gun" (e.g.: using the wrong type of wood preservative) -- it is certainly true that the primary FINANCIAL responsibility has resided with wineries for quite some time . . . and, no doubt, will continue to do so.

                        Cheers,
                        Jason

                    2. re: zin1953

                      Hey, why not, lets blame the guy who is not in the room - cork guy. "Yo, corkman, a few of your 10 cent corks from 1963 portos cost us about $18 large. Pony up."

                      As you said, Jason, in an IDEAL world. I see there are no rules; it's up to gentlemen to be gentlemen.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        Vego,

                        You seem to be missing the point -- either that, or I didn't explain myself well. Let's presume the latter.

                        I cannot speak for all states, but under California law, the consumer can return bottles of wine to the retailer ONLY in exchange for the current vintage, and ONLY if the wine is "bad." (For example, you *cannot* buy wine "on consignment" -- for a party, let's say -- and return the unopened bottles for credit/refund.) This is also true in the majority of other states with which I've dealt with professionally as a wine importer/national distributor, and as the sales manager for a California winery.

                        Retailers are permitted, in turn, to return the "bad" bottles (and in many jurisdictions, any broken bottles) to the wholesaler for credit against their invoice(s).

                        Wineries and importers generally give wholesalers a sample allowance, although occasionally they will provide extra bottles as samples in lieu of/in addition to the allowance. This sample allowance and/or extra bottles are *supposed* to cover any bad bottles, breakage, and samples used (samples generally being split 50-50 with the winery/importer).

                        Now, the key here is "return bottles of wine to the retailer ONLY in exchange for the current vintage." Obviously, 1963 is not the current vintage; neither is 2005 in many cases. In theory, I suppose, a corked 1963 Fonseca could be exchanged for the current vintage of Fonseca, but that's hardly an adequate replacement. Then again, since the laws were ***not written*** to account for wines going into someone's cellar for years and years before being opened, there is no realistic, satisfactory solution when it comes to old bottles. Then again, since the average bottle of wine in the US is consumed within seven days of purchase, this is not an issue that comes up for most people.

                        Neither does the law account for bottles purchased through auction, by the way.

                        As for "blam(ing) the guy who is not in the room," who would you say is responsible for a TCA-contaminated cork? The winery who bought a shipment of corks and stuck them into bottles, or the cork manufacturer who chlorinated the corks, processed them, and ultimately led to the contamination of the individual corks with 2,4,6-trichloranisole?

                        Just curious.

                        Cheers,
                        Jason

                        1. re: zin1953

                          I would blame the cork trees, and I would issue a requisition for dogs to piss on them.

                          You confirmed that in the trade there are allowances for the circumstance of bad bottles. With my sense of fair play, I think it is correct for the consumer of nice wines to somehow share in the risk.

                          cheers, Veg

                          1. re: Veggo

                            >>> I would blame the cork trees, and I would issue a requisition for dogs to piss on them. <<<

                            When you decide to seriously discuss the issue, I'll be happy to respond.

                            1. re: zin1953

                              I think the cards are on the table face up.There are 5 players here - cork supplier, vintner, distributor, retailer, consumer. 8% of wines go bad, as is stated here.

                              I have posited that as tradition favors the use of corks, the consumer should share in the risk. I welcome others' opinions, especially yours in that you are in the trade. No need to snark me.

                          2. re: zin1953

                            imo the ultimate responsibility lies with the winery. they chose to use cork in spite of its problems when there are other, and imo much better, alternatives.

                            if wineries had to make good on even 1/2 or 1/4 of corked bottles they would have abandoned cork long ago.

                            1. re: jock

                              Jock, how does the winery bear responsibility for a faulty cork?

                              Let's remember for a moment that a) corks have been used for centuries, and b) the issues surrounding replacing faulty bottles pre-dates the (now) ever-increasing use of screw caps.

                              If there is a problem with (for example) the tires on an automobile, it's the tire company -- not the automobile company -- that issues the recall and pays for the replacement(s). But in this instance, the cork manufacturer skates through this problem free-and-clear*.

                              As for abandoning cork long ago, screw cap closures have been used for California wine since the 1930s, but the image -- as I am sure I do not need to tell you -- that a screw cap closure conveys is one of cheap, high alcohol wines (Thunderbird, Night Train, etc.) or equally cheap jug wines (Gallo, ISC, Taylor, etc.).

                              One of the largest obstacles to widespread use of screw cap closures IN THE U.S. is the connotation of "cheap wine" that screw caps convey. That said, it is important to note that in Europe, Australia, and elsewhere -- places where 3.0 and 4.0L jug wines with screw caps are *not* commonplace -- screw caps are in more widespread use.

                              You may want wineries to abandon the use of corks, and I may share that desire, but forcing wineries to pay for things not their fault is probably not the way to do it.

                              Cheers,
                              Jason

                              * Unless the winery sues the cork manufacturer for damages, which has happened in the past.

                              1. re: zin1953

                                It seems that apportioning all blame to the manufacturer of a corked wine's cork supposes that it is possible to manufacture a cork which has no chance of contaminating a wine. Is it? (I don't know.)

                                For the sake of argument--and not stemming from a deeply-developed personal opinion--I think it seems worth noting/emphasising that wineries are not forced to use a cork. The well-documented image problem is an argument in favor of using a cork, but again it is the winery's prerogative to weigh the possible diminution of demand for a screw cap-bottled wine against the possibility of corkage. Leaving unresolved the issue of who 'should' bear responsibility for a corked wine for a few sentences, from your exposition of laws and exchange practices, it sounds as if wineries have some de facto responsibility for corked wines. As such it is truly the winery's choice: risk of lower sales or risk of lower 'yield' (undamaged wine). Having made this choice, the winery should accept responsibility for the result.

                                There is some element of circularity here--de facto responsibility apparently begets real resonsibility--but I think this is the right perspective.

                                (also, let me add my thanks for the wealth of information you're posting here, Jason!)

                                1. re: eethan

                                  >>> It seems that apportioning all blame to the manufacturer of a corked wine's cork supposes that it is possible to manufacture a cork which has no chance of contaminating a wine. Is it? (I don't know.) <<<

                                  Overwhelmingly, the major source of TCA contamination has occurred during the manufacture of the cork closure. Is it the *only* source? No, but it has been the MAIN source.

                                  >>> I think it seems worth noting/emphasising that wineries are not forced to use a cork. The well-documented image problem is an argument in favor of using a cork . . . it sounds as if wineries have some de facto responsibility for corked wines. As such it is truly the winery's choice: risk of lower sales or risk of lower 'yield' (undamaged wine). Having made this choice, the winery should accept responsibility for the result. <<<

                                  Times change. In the recent past -- as little as 10-20 years ago -- using screw cap closures was not feasible. Indeed, in many cases it still is not a realistic possibility. But certainly the "image issue" is a serious one. How many people reading this would *honestly* pay $100+ for a high-end red wine from Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Rhône (to name but a few)? Seriously. Anyone?

                                  >>> it is truly the winery's choice: risk of lower sales or risk of lower 'yield' (undamaged wine). Having made this choice, the winery should accept responsibility for the result. <<<

                                  Your option PRESUMES there are two equal options. That is not known. Yet.

                                  Wineries are like any business: the object of the exercise at the end of the day is profitability. What business -- any business -- will intentionally do something that will encourage the "risk of lower sales"? Now it very well turn out that wines under screw caps will age as well as wines under cork. But no one knows that yet. As such, the option isn't simply between the risk of lowered sales or lowered "yield" (to use your term). It's between a risk of lowered sales due to a screw cap closure, and the risk of ruined wines because of an inability to age.

                                  There are many examples of wineries who DO use screw caps for SOME of their wines -- wines meant for immediate consumption (w/in 5 years of bottling) -- and cork closures for SOME of their wines -- wines meant for long(er) term aging.

                                  In other words, the option between screw cap and cork is not (yet) an equal option. No one yet knows if a Cabernet (for example) will age equally well under screw cap and cork. That jury is still out . . .

                                  IF -- and it's a big if -- that jury were in . . . if it were shown that wines age equally well under screw cap and cork, THEN I would say that the winery opting to use inferior, perhaps faulty, technology would bear the responsibility.

                                  But do not loose sight of one very important factor:

                                  >>> the winery should accept responsibility for the result. <<<

                                  This is exactly what happens now. The winery DOES accept the responsibility; they are, ultimately, the one that absorbs much of the cost (the rest being absorbed by the wholesaler). That is, IF the consumer returns the bottle to the retailer, and IF the retailer returns it to the wholesaler . . .

                                  Keep in mind that it's the cork manufacturer who, despite supplying an item with a 10% failure rate, gets off scot-free. As I mentioned elsewhere in this thread, the winery covers much of the cost through its sample allowance; the wholesaler covers the rest.

                                  The PROBLEMS come from two sources: a) the consumer "eating" the cost by not returning the bad bottle, and b) when a customer opens a treasured bottle after years in the cellar, only to find it corked and (generally) unable to return it.

                                  Cheers,
                                  Jason

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    Jason, what are the concerns about screw tops in the long run? Does cork attenuate the ebb and flow of pressure during the ageing process, while screw tops are rigid? Does cork bring anything to the party? Do the bottle manufacturers resist retooling for threaded bottles? I'm sure the issue is more complex than meets the average eye. Thanks.

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      First things first: I am NOT a winemaker; not a scientist of any kind. My understanding of aging wines is based in experience, and what I've been taught -- both in classes and from winemakers, both famous and unknown.

                                      Corks permit -- all things being equal/ideal -- a very slow, very small amount of oxygen through the closure. Too much air (oxygen) and the wine oxidizes. Too little air, the wine becomes reduced. There is a good chart if you look here: http://www.nomacorc.com/oxygen-manage...

                                      The advantage (in MOST situations) is that a screw cap is air-tight. But with wine, that would/should *negatively* affect aging. Therein lies the problem, and why it's good for wines that do not need much, if any, aging.

                                      AND that's why synthetic corks pay so much attention to "oxygen management."

                                      Cheers,
                                      Jason

                                      1. re: Veggo

                                        <Jason, what are the concerns about screw tops in the long run?>

                                        Not Jason, but the concerns are mainly reductive aromas -- sulfurous aromas and compounds that form because of a lack of oxygen. Now, some screwcaps are being designed that allow a tiny ingress of oxygen (like the cork allows) to avoid the skunky, cabbage-y smells, but not enough time has gone by to see if those new screwcaps do the trick.

                                        The other issues are the widespread perception that a screw cap wine can't be as high-quality as one stoppered with a cork, as Jason has pointed out; and aesthetics (the ritual of pulling a cork, etc.).

                                  2. re: zin1953

                                    "If there is a problem with (for example) the tires on an automobile, it's the tire company -- not the automobile company -- that issues the recall and pays for the replacement(s). But in this instance, the cork manufacturer skates through this problem free-and-clear*. "

                                    i agree unless the automobile manufacturer knowingly puts on a tire that he knows is defective. then it is his fault. i lay the majority of blame on the winery because they know they are using a possibly/probably defective product but they do it anyway because they do not usually suffer the consequences. the cork producer virtually never does. at least until the wine industry abandons cork altogether which imo cannot happen too soon.

                                    1. re: jock

                                      >>> i lay the majority of blame on the winery because they know they are using a possibly/probably defective product but they do it anyway because they do not usually suffer the consequences. <<<

                                      In what way do they *not* suffer the consequences? The only parties that DO pay for corked bottles are a) the wineries/producers, and b) the wholesalers . . . UNLESS the consumer fails to return the bottle(s). Only then does the consumer pay the price.

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        I may be off base here but my own experience in wine retail is that nowhere near 8% (or whatever % is suggested) of wines closed with corks are returned by consumers. I certainly can't prove it, but my opinion is that much of that 8% goes unnoticed by all but the most knowledgeable and sensitive consumers.

                                        I'm also pretty certain that the percentage recognized as corked increases along with the bottle price for the most part due to the knowledge and sensitivity of the consumer increasing in parallel with the price they pay for wine.

                                        Jason, I know you believe the % statistic, but did you actually see that number as a retailer, wholesaler and with a winery?

                                        1. re: Midlife

                                          Generally accepted figures within the wine industry acknowledge a five percent "failure rate," or "rate-of-taint," on the low side, and 10 percent on the high side. These are figures most often mentioned in press releases, or bandied about in discussions, seminars, etc.

                                          That said, as you might imagine, the cork industry itself speaks in terms of numbers far lower. APCOR (Associação Portuguesa da Cortiça), otherwise known as the Portuguese Cork Association, cites a rate of 0.7-1.2% based upon a 2002 study done in the UK, but no one I know takes that seriously. Indeed, the methodology of that study has been seriously questioned. See http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-new...

                                          Dr. Jamie Goode, author of "The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass" and "Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking," uses the five percent figure -- http://www.wineanorak.com/cork.htm -- while Dr. Andrew Waterhouse of UC Davis estimated (in 2001) a rate-of-taint of between 2-7% -- http://waterhouse.ucdavis.edu/ven219/...

                                          Back in 2006, the Wine Spectator published a note that seven percent of the 2,800 or so bottles tasted were corked.

                                          In my personal experience -- wines I open myself, or wines we have with friends, in restaurants, etc. -- the rate-of-taint runs between 5-10%, so that's (seven or) eight percent to pin it to a single number.

                                          As I mentioned above, the highest I've ever seen was one year at the California State Fair -- which began tracking the number of corked bottles several years ago -- was just under 20 percent, *but* in all fairness, this included Altecs -- a product that was an amalgam of cork and synthetic material that turned out to just suck! See David Cafaro's blog for more information -- click on http://www.coffaro.com/diary/47_50_20... and scroll down to the entries for 12/05 and 12/12/2002 . . .

                                          Generally, most wine competitions seem to run slightly higher -- say, 10-12% -- as you would expect with so many professionals involved.

                                          >>> I certainly can't prove it, but my opinion is that much of that 8% goes unnoticed by all but the most knowledgeable and sensitive consumers. <<<

                                          I'd be surprised is retailers saw even as much as a TWO percent rate-of-taint, based upon customer returns.

                                          Cheers,
                                          Jason

                                          1. re: zin1953

                                            Yes. It's only the "retailer rate" I was asking about. My shop had an average bottle price of around $23 (four times the average I had read for SoCal at all retail levels) and I saw less than 1% returns.

                                            I found that cork taint was something akin to 'a tree falling in the forest'. ;o)

                                            1. re: Midlife

                                              >>> I found that cork taint was something akin to 'a tree falling in the forest'. ;o) <<<

                                              Actually, I would think that the AVERAGE consumer and corked wines is more akin to the proverbial blind pig finding a truffle . . . I mean, it *does* happen every once in a while, but most consumers -- by which I mean the average consumer -- won't recognize it.

                                              That said, I will confess that, for whatever reason, I rarely return the corked bottles I open at home, or bring to someone else's house and open there. Usually they were purchased months, if not years, ago and I may not even remember where I bought them. But, certainly, if it's recently purchased (within a month, let's say) and very obviously corked (or if I have a solid relationship with the retailer, so I don't have to argue with the employee about whether or not the wine was corked, or explain what TCA is), then I do return it . . . .

                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                >>>"the proverbial blind pig finding a truffle"<<<

                                                Wish I'd thought of that analogy. ;o)))))))

                                                I've always wondered ............ if the industry claims 5-10%, AND the average person can't easily detect TCA, could the ACTUAL tainted percentage really be much greater?

                                                1. re: Midlife

                                                  Well, keep in mind it's the wine industry that speaks of 5-10%. The CORK industry loved that study (with its apparently flawed methodology) of 0.7-1.2% . . .

                                                  Most wine industry professionals see a rate-of-taint "average" of around 7-8% (or 5-10%). As for that "just under 20%" rate that one year at the California State Fair, as I mentioned previously, that year there were a lot of Altecs, and I think that skewed the overall figure higher than normal.

                                                  Even though TCA (and TCB) is measured in parts per billion (ppb), rather than parts per million (ppm), there are certainly individuals who are more sensitive than others when it comes to "cork taint." Even the most sensitive individuals I can think of rarely cite a rate of over 12 percent.

                                                  As you know, sometimes a wine that has very low levels of contamination merely seems "dull" or "muted," and the only way to know it's really "corked" (short of laboratory analysis) is to open another bottle. Even those who know and understand "corkiness" will sometimes mistake this muted character for the wine just being in a "dumb" phase.

                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                    This gets me back to my feeling that people with very highly discerning palates don't get to enjoy as much wine as I do. ;o)))

                                                    1. re: Midlife

                                                      Au contraire, mon ami . . .

                                                      I think it's true that we are often put off/disappointed by "off" bottles that others do not notice, AND it's true that we often suffer through bottles of mediocrity (think 2BC or your average White Zin) that others will enjoy . . .

                                                      BUT . . . the subtle joys of an elegantly complex Savigny-les-Beaune or Chambolle-Musigny, the layered leather and fruit of an aged Rioja or Ribera del Duero, the understated intricacies of a mature Pauillac or Pessac-Léognan . . . all these, and more, I would posit are enjoyed to even greater heights by those with a "discerning palate" . . . .

                                                      Cheers,
                                                      Jason

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        win a few, lose a few..

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          Well....... you may enjoy each wine more, but my point was that I get to enjoy more (a greater %) of the wines I try. In this case ignorance is bliss.

                                                          Come on. Give me a break here.

                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                            please do not take offense this is not intended to be personally directed.

                                                            don't you think you are entitled to the full enjoyment that you paid for? how much more would you enjoy the wine if you had chosen the bottle next to it on the shelf?

                                                            i think everyone, trained sophisticated palate or not, deserves to know what the wine is really like. if you had the opportunity to taste an untainted bottle for side-by-side comaprison at the same time you would immediately be able to tell the difference and it would not require the "trained sophisticated palate" to do so.

                                                            1. re: jock

                                                              But how often can one taste the 2 side by side? and where? None of the wine classes that i have looked into cover this as a rule.

                                                              1. re: budnball

                                                                You never took my classes, did you? ;^)

                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                  mine neither

                                                            2. re: Midlife

                                                              Doesn't this presume that those with "very highly discerning palates" are forced to drink 2BC and White Zin (to stick with the same examples) -- with no alternatives -- from time to time? ;^) I can't remember the last time I had a wine I didn't enjoy (aside from flawed bottles) that I pulled from my cellar and/or bought and opened at home.

                                                              The question is *not* "Which $100 bottle am I opening tonight?" Most of the wines I buy for near-term consumption (excluding Champagnes) at home are in the $12-25 range -- liters of Gruner Veltliner, regular bottles of Muscadet, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Beaujolais, wines from the Rhône and Languedoc, the Douro and Alentejo . . . it's not a question of price, but rather of selecting the wines you like -- regardless of price (so long as they it one's budget).

                                                              I love that $12.99 Muscadet, for example, and when paired with the right food, it positively sings and gives me as much pleasure as a bottle of beautifully aged Pauillac paired with a beautifully aged rib-eye . . . .

                                                              Cheers,
                                                              Jason

                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                "Doesn't this presume that those with "very highly discerning palates" are forced to drink 2BC and White Zin (to stick with the same examples) -- with no alternatives -- from time to time? ;^) I can't remember the last time I had a wine I didn't enjoy (aside from flawed bottles) that I pulled from my cellar and/or bought and opened at home."

                                                                ?? not sure i follow you. all i was trying to convey is that be it 2bc or la tache a corked bottle is not what one pays for and even if some enjoy it for whatever reason they would enjoy a non-corked bottle more regardless of their sophistication.

                                                                btw - my purchasing and consumption pattern almost exactly matches yours except that i seldom pay more than $20. gruner veltliner, muscadet, verdejo and macon villages top my list for whites. cotes du rhone, barbera and real beaujolais for reds plus a whole lot of roses du provence.

                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                  I'm not really sure but it sounds like both you, Jason, and jock are making more of my point than I intended. I'm simply assuming that, if 5-10% of the wines you open are undrinkable ........ and only 1% of the wines I open are the same............ that I get to enjoy 4 to 9 more bottles of every 100 I open.

                                                                  jock, this was a tongue-in-check reflection on the math only. But............ I might question your two bottles side-by-side example to the extent that you would probably be more able to tell the difference than I would. Certainly a direct test like that would make it easier for me but, if my threshold in ppm is high, I might not always be able to discern the difference.

                                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                                    without as side-by-side comparison you might well be happy when jason and i are not.

                                                                    HOWEVER, on the numerous occasions when someone who does not detect tca is offered the comparision of an unflawed bottle they have without exception been able to notice the difference. i have complete faith in your ability to spot the difference if given the chance.

                                                                    1. re: jock

                                                                      It's distressing to me when corked wines are tasted and simply not liked, and the drinker attributes that to the brand of wine, thinking simply "I don't like that," when they are not tasting the wine as it should be. Lots of brands suffer because of this. More often, I suspect, a drinker sample wines that are slightly corked, below the level the perception for most people, and the wine's muted fruit and lackluster flavor cause the drinker to think that brand of wine doesn't have much flavor! Again, the drinker is not tasting the wine the way it should be, and is forever put off by that brand of wine thinking the wine is insipid and flavorless. I wish wineries were more on top of this so they wouldn't suffer the brand erosion that is the result of corked or subtly corked wines.

                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                        Agreed!

                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                          marialorraine, are you aware of a simple method for learning to distinguish TCA other than a side-by-side comparison? I work part-time in a wine shop run by a very knowledgeable 40-year industry veteran. We've been doing tastings for 4 months now, he's probably opened 200+ bottles in that time, and he's yet to have identified a corked bottle. {I wouldn't dare suggest what that might say about his experttise.]

                                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                                            <<marialorraine, are you aware of a simple method for learning to distinguish TCA other than a side-by-side comparison?>>

                                                                            Here's a guess. My theory is that once we lock in a smell, we can smell it at lower and lower concentrations. Take these distinct smells: singed hair, an electrical wire burning, rotten potatoes, urine, and mustiness. Once you know the smell of singed hair -- since it is so distinct -- you can smell the tiniest touch of singed hair, like the amount of smell that happens when a few hairs get caught in the heating element of a blow dryer. Or, electrical wires/insulation burning, also such a distinctive smell. Once you know it, you can smell it at lower and lower concentrations. Maybe it's not actual electrical wires burning, but the motor on a blender straining -- you know the smell and you trust your perception.

                                                                            TCA operates the same way. It is a very distinct smell, and once you smell it, and know the smell, you can smell it when it is very subtle. For someone who hasn't "locked in" the smell, here's what I suggest. Have this wine drinker smell an outrageously corked bottle -- really, really corked -- to lock in the smell, and then have that person smell a regular corked bottle (TCA at a lower concentration) and then a subtly corked bottle (at a lower concentration still). Also, when smelling/tasting that third bottle, have the drinker take note of the muted fruit and the general blah quality of the wine. Those last two things are tipoffs that a wine is corked if the corked smell isn't obvious and the parts per billion may be near your threshold of perception.

                                                                            I was lucky enough to take a TCA-TBA-TeCA test once. During that test for each of three anisoles listed, a dozen glasses were placed in front of me. Of the 12, at least three were untainted (the controls). The remaining nine were doctored (tainted) to various parts per billion. First came TCA. I was correctly able to identify it down to 3-4 ppb, but the 2 ppb eluded me. (I bet Bill Hunt would have picked it out.). I think the normal incidence of TCA in a bottle of wine is about 12 ppb.

                                                                            But here what was special. For the first time, I was able to distinguish TBA from TCA. This is important because TBA is clearly cellar taint whereas TCA can be both cellar taint and cork taint. And the two smell almost identical. But I had before me a glass doctored with a huge dose of TBA and finally I was able to smell and differentiate it from TCA. It's got that wet cardboard/wet dog smell like TCA, but there is also a dank, green component to the smell, like vegetables that have been stored too long in the refrigerator and have become slimy. Once I locked in TBA, I was able (and have been able since) to distinguish it from TCA. That's why I recommend exposure to TCA at a high level to lock it in, so that one may smell it at a lower concentration, or the concentration at which the smell regularly occurs.

                                                                            Smells give us information and become part of our olfactory database because of the information they provide. Take the example of a new mother, or better yet, a new father. At first, a new mother or father may not be able to smell -- from across a room -- a wet or soiled diaper on their newborn. But once you know the smell of both those things, once you've locked in both those smells and know they contain important information, i.e., that the baby needs changing, you can smell a diaper that is only slightly wet or slightly soiled from across a room. You smell the smell at lower concentrations. This is true for many smells: a parent/spouse smelling cigarettes on a teenager/spouse; a parent smelling cannabis in their teenager's hair; a musty room that needs airing; bedding that needs washing, the saccharine-sweet smell of cancer in a body, a drain that needs freshening, and on and on.

                                                                            And our human sense of smell (even for a woman ovulating!) is rather weak compared to a dog's sense of smell or a cougar's or a mother bear's. Imagine, dogs must experience smells like we would see bright zones of color!

                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                              I have definitely come across corked bottles, or at least bottles that were so off that it was obvious something was seriously wrong.. But since we sold our shop, more than two years ago, I don't think I've had a bottle that was that obvious, even in the shop I'm working in. There have been muted bottles and extremely "barnyardy?" aromas, but really nothing as bad as before.

                                                                              I guess I should ask a couple of wine rep friends to save me some obviously corked bottles (at different levels) so I can compare and develop a standard. I've just been thinking I'm not sensitive to TCA, but the 40-year-veteran also not finding corked bottles has me a bit baffled.

                                                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                                                you would be surprised how many people in the wine trade have no clue.

                                                                                i cannot count the number of times i have been poured obviously corked wines at trade shows where neither the people pouring nor the people tasting picked it up. i suspect jason and maria have both had similar experiences.

                                                                                ps - at trade shows there are usually multiple bottles and when i get them to open a second that is good everyone gets it.

                                                                                1. re: jock

                                                                                  While I do not -- by ANY means -- condone pouring flawed wines at trade shows/tastings, what i have found to be the case is that -- when it *does* happen -- the person pouring the wine merely popped the cork and poured for the crowd WITHOUT remembering to sniff/taste the new bottle first.

                                                                                  It happens. I've been guilty of doing it myself, no matter how hard I try to remember.

                                                                                  When I find a corked sample at a trade tasting, I usually just ask the pourer if he/she has tried this bottle. The answer has invariably been NO, and a horrified look crosses their face -- one smell of the bottle, and that bottle gets tossed under the table and a new bottle opened . . .

                                                                                  Again, I'm not excusing it, but I've found this scenario typically falls under the heading of human error, rather than human ignorance.

                                                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                                                    which is unfortunate, but completely understandable -- a busy trade tasting (and even moreso a busy public tasting) is semi-controlled chaos, and to forget to sniff a bottle in the utter blur of activity is completely forgiveable.

                                                                                    We visit the Salon de Vins de Vignerons Independent in Paris twice a year...not only absolutely mind-boggling in the sheer width and depth of the offering, but seriously -- 100 000 square feet of NOTHING but wine. Wowza. I'm mostly amazed those guys (and gals) manage to remember their names, let alone to sniff every one of the countless bottles they open over that 4-day period.

                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                      I've done a lot of these tastings, and have learned it's important to arrive early and get a large number of bottles prepped. You open them and sample/smell them. Then, whenever those bottles run out and a new bottle is opened, it also has to pass muster. Takes an extra 30 seconds. If you want your wines to show well, you do this. I know many embarrassing horror stories from not following this procedure.

                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                        They just don't have the space available to prep a lot of bottles -- at this particular event, the vintners are given a space about 2 metres (6'6") wide by about 3 metres (about 10 feet) deep, with a tasting counter at the front. No posters, no booths like at other trade shows, no room to store anything (the November booths are mess with coats strewn everywhere) -- and the space is used to stack case upon case of wine to sell to the thousands who shuffle through.

                                                                                        Some DO decant, and the decanter sits on the counter at the front -- the Champagne and Cremant producers usually have a small refrigerator to keep things cold -- and the open bottles either sit on the counter, or are carefully balanced on a crate...

                                                                                        But most of them just don't have space to have more than a couple of bottles of each of their varietals/vintages open at any one time.

                                                                                        It's chaos, but such lovely, lovely chaos.

                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                          ML,

                                                                                          I agree completely, and anyone, seriously in "the business," should do the same. Many do, but some do not really get into it, and it can show, and show badly.

                                                                                          Hunt

                                                                                    2. re: jock

                                                                                      Jock,

                                                                                      You point up a real problem. I have encountered the very same. In one trade-tasting, a son of the winemaker (the director of marketing) poured an obviously corked bottle of their Reserve Chardonnay, in a "Reserve, what's the difference?" seminar. When I pointed it out, he waved it off, but did mention that some in the audience would probably find a "fault" with the Reserve. This, in a resort, that had cases of their Reserve wine in the cellar, but it was easier to just try and pass it off to the assembled.

                                                                                      I just returned a magnum of a small producer's Reserve Chard. I had a replacement (next vintage, in this case) in three days, with an apology. The winemaker was horrified, and asked only for the cork, to see if he could trace it to a lot. Most care very much, as their wines are like their children, and they want them presented at their very best.

                                                                                      In my anecdotal experiences (not being either a winemaker, nor a scientist), the quantity seems to be within the general quantities stated by the trade - between 4% and 8%. However, I have encountered some producers, where the level goes up by a few %.

                                                                                      Just some observations,

                                                                                      Hunt

                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                        Bill, I'm curious as to why a winemaker would be "horrified" if the general experience is 4 to 8% or (5 to 10%). Is that because they don't hear back that often, so when they do it could be that the actual percentage in that bottling is even higher?

                                                                                        1. re: Midlife

                                                                                          I'm not Bill, I just play him on Chowhound . . . .

                                                                                          "Horrified" is applicable in three ways that I can think of, off the top-of-my-head.

                                                                                          1) "Horrified," in that the winemaker is sorry this happened to a customer and is being overly apologetic. ("I'm shocked, shocked, that there is gambling in this establishment." "Your winnings, sir." "Thank you very much.")

                                                                                          2) "Horrified," in that he paid extra for "super firsts," and is naive enough to think that would protect him agaisnt cork taint; that the cork sales rep "guaranteed" this batch of cork was "taint-free," and he wants the cork to stick it up ----------

                                                                                          3) "Horrified," in that he was totally shocked any customer would bother to contact the winery directly, and take the time to do so . . .

                                                                                          ;^)

                                                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                                                            "I'm not Bill, I just play him on Chowhound . . "

                                                                                            And most folk think that you do a better job!!!!

                                                                                            Most winemakers, with whom I have had deep discussions on the "cork taint" issues, hate that their product was corrupted. This has taken two tacks: that the best was not delivered, and that new-comers to their wines, would be put off, and possibly not know why. I'd feel the same way.

                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                          2. re: Midlife

                                                                                            In my experience, a winemaker wants their results to show perfectly, as it can be a first step for a future patron. All, with whom I have spoken, hate for any of their wines to be corked, and will do almost anything to replace any bad bottles.

                                                                                            Hunt

                                                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                              I understand that Bill. I just took the word "horrified" to include n element of surprise that would seem odd given what I've learned about TCA's omnipresence in corks and related environs.

                                                                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                                                                Probably a bad choice of words on my part. Maybe "deeply saddened," or perhaps "alarmed at the marketing damage done," would have been better.

                                                                                                Most admit to a certain %, but do not like it. Over the last few years, many "traditionalist" have gone to Stelvin, or similar, as they feel that "corked wine" is diminishing their reputations, and cutting into sales.

                                                                                                Hunt

                                                                                        2. re: jock

                                                                                          heheheh at a trade show on Wednesday, a young woman opened a bottle and poured some in my glass. I asked: "Don't you want to taste it first?" She blushed and said Oops, then poured some into her glass.

                                                                                          The wine was fine, by the way! ;-D

                                                                                  2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                    that's precisely what i was trying to say. i defer to your eloquence.

                                        2. A lot less. Most wines should just go to screw cap other than fine wines that one would age. I think there are other issues with natural along with leakage issues on older bottles which would raise the rate of bad bottles. I would love to see a 25 year study (I a sure one is going on now) that shows the difference in wines sealed in cork and screw cap. If the wines are as good under screw cap and show a potential to age some more will go to them. Too many people still think the screw cap wines are cheap.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: wineglas1

                                            I've already posted here about the bottle of 1937 California white wine I had at UC Davis in 1979 -- sealed with a screw cap . . . .

                                            1. re: wineglas1

                                              there are several such studies in australia that all seem to conclude that screwcaps are superior. one issue with aussie wines is that very few, save grange, have enough history to know if they will age. i suspect those studies are underway in bordeaux but there seems to be a cone of silence surrounding them.

                                              1. re: jock

                                                There's no silence that I know of . . . unless you see conspiracy theories beneath every rock.

                                                The aging trials currently underway in Bordeaux *and* California are just that: underway. Preliminary results show no difference in the short term (up to five years of aging). Mid-term aging results (up to 10 years) are mixed, but by-and-large mostly positive, from what I've been told -- despite some differences between the wines sealed with cork vs. screw cap. Long-term aging, over 20 years, and the tests are still underway.

                                                Personally, I prefer screw caps on *any* wine I plan on drinking within five years of purchase. I'm more hesitant on wines needing 10+ years of bottle age.

                                                Cheers,
                                                Jason

                                            2. Unfortunately, I think it's mostly a matter of "sh*t happens" --

                                              Is it absolutely, positively the fault of the cork producer? No -- because he doesn't control what happens to the cork after they leave his facility.

                                              Is it absolutely, positively the fault of the vintner? No -- he has no control over what happened to the cork before he opened that carton, and he has no control over what happens to it once it leaves the vineyard.

                                              The distributor and/or retailer? No again - they can only control what happens to the cork while the bottle is physically in their possession.

                                              The consumer? Nope again -- all the places that the wine and the cork have been before I get it in my hot little hands is absolutely beyond my control, so it's not my liability, either.

                                              So who bears it?

                                              If the relationships along the distribution chain are beneficial to all parties and all the parties are capable of acting like reasonable adults, then somewhere along the line the fiduciary loss for a corked bottle get shared.

                                              If not...life sucks. If it's a $300 bottle of first-growth Bordeaux, it sucks pretty hard, but sh*t happens.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                In sum, the fault is "anyone but me". Very few businesses can withstand a 8% loss, and the stubborn tradition of corks begs for a re-evaluation when there are better alternatives.

                                                Think how many "corked" bottles were nonetheless drunk by innocents on special occasions with high expectations, only to wonder "is this what it's all about?"

                                                1. re: Veggo

                                                  I agree with most of what you say but wine is one of those things that is sold by romance and rituals like diamonds. The bottles, the clinking glasses, the expert use of very small corkscrews, the satisfying plop. We have bought into a fantasy which is beautiful and flawed.
                                                  Jason is correct in the idea that people still associate screw tops with "cheap" which keeps it from getting more traction. I also have met a few vintners who feel they can not take a chance on a business that has a small enough profit margin, to offend customers with screw tops.
                                                  But you make a point that in few businesses could one survive a 15% failure rate.

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    Not at all, Veggo -- I'm saying that there are far too many variables and too many external influences along the lifecycle of a cork that there really isn't any way (assuming we're not talking about some gross mismanagement of product along the line) to definitely say "THIS is why this bottle is corked" It's not "anyone but me", it's "impossible to say"

                                                2. (Ironically?) I just wound up with a badly corked wine this weekend. I was a bit uncertain, but after opening a second bottle, the difference is glaring and obvious. So tallying my percentage over the past couple of months (i.e. wines that I clearly recall), that is 1 in 5 wines with a cork that are tainted. I am surprised!

                                                  The cork from the corked bottle had an odd 'powder-coated' feel, like some nitrile gloves do, but I haven't seen anything suggesting there are tactile clues to corkage(??).

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: eethan

                                                    That sounds a bit high, BUT it could be the wineries that you have frequented (by way of their wines), or just some back luck.

                                                    Now, I have had a horrible track record with Neyers Carneros Chard, in that almost half of the bottles (most/all? from Costco), have been corked at one level, or another. It is so high, that I have begun to wonder if they have an issue in their winery, as others have had.

                                                    As for the corks, themselves, I observe a gray tinge, on the wine-end, and though the bottles have been stored for some period, horizontal, it seems oddly dry. Often, the cork will belie the taint, though not always. When I encounter that gray tinge, it has been 100%.

                                                    Your side-by-side comparison is a good one. If I do not know the wine, it might take me a bit, to pick up on the TCA/TCB, though I have never encountered a wine, that I did not suspect, that anyone found a flaw with. With tiny percentages, it might be a bit more work to zero in, for sure, but with a side-by-side, there has never been a doubt in my mind. Scalped fruit, a hint (or more) mustiness, and also I find a higher acid level, or at least a higher perceived acid level. Note: some noted contributors disagree with me on this last one, but it's what I perceive.

                                                    Hunt

                                                  2. I'm finding this interesting because like eethan, I've never turned back a bottle specifically because I believed it to be corked. That said, I've questioned the "funky" ("earthy," "barnyard," "musty," etc.) taste or aroma of some wines I've had, but I've been told on more than one occasion that what I'm detecting is simply a characteristic of that particular wine. So now, given the certainty that I've encountered corked bottles, if based solely on statistics, I'm thinking I need to learn to distinguish between "corked" and otherwise "funky." How/where can I learn to detect the presence of a truly corked bottle?

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                                      buy a package of those pre-prepared baby carrots in a cellophane package (you also get them on airplanes.

                                                      they always smell like tca.

                                                      it smells like wet, moldy newspapers on the concrete floor of a basement.

                                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                                        "Barnyard" is the characteristic of Brett (Brettanomyces, or Dekkera).

                                                        TCA is, as Jock has said, "wet moldy newspapers." I typically say "wet dog" or "moldy cardboard," but it's the same thing.

                                                        "Earthy" can just be a characteristic of the wine.

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          Gigondas can be pretty "barn-y", too -- I enjoy it, but my DH can't get past the smell. I really like the wines that smell of dirt or leaves or barn -- but I realize I'm in a pretty solid majority.

                                                          One of my most vivid "aha!" moments was several years ago at a Touraine producer when we were just really beginning to understand and enjoy wines. (I don't claim to be an expert now...but I was pretty much a n00b at this point)

                                                          I swirled and sniffed...and the smell of autumn leaves was so strong that an image of a walk through an orange-and-red forest flickered through my mind....it was the signature aroma of that wine, but it was one of those moments when the lights come on and you begin to understand what they're talking about when they mention things like leather or hay or pepper or grapefruit.

                                                          The vintner was pretty amused by my wide-eyed reaction (I smell leaves! like walking in the forest in the fall!) -- but pleased that I'd "gotten it" - and by our purchases...