Faulty Corks on the Rise Again?

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Claude Kolm, Oct 9, 2018.

  1. I've noticed in the past six months or so an alarming increase in the number of faulty corks I've encountered in newly-released wines (perhaps 5% or even more). This is an anecdotal observation, of course, but as I review a lot of wines, that means that I open quite a few new bottles. Are others observing the same?
  2. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Can't say I am. I think the incidence in newly released wines has been stable in recent years for me.
  3. A friend fetched along a D’Arenberg Fortified Shiraz ‘04. Corked & his attempt at the plastic bag trick failed. Underneath was a good wine.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2018
  4. Claude's comment about 'newly released' may well refer to wines well past 2008 which is roughly when the previously complacent cork majors had finally seen their large investment in improved harvesting, storage, treatment and production facilities and processes with parallel GCMS [Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry] testing really pay off.
    There had been gradual improvements up to [2001-2008] and beyond that date but if Claude is referring to experiencing a significant increase [and 5% obviously is] in corked bottles well after that date, particularly in higher level wines then that would be interesting if, as he has requested hearing, others have had a similar experience.

    Personally I haven't although I have noticed a major increase in DIAM closed wines with rather more screwcapped wines too.
  5. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Absolutely, so incidence is relative to how many bottles are still closed with one-piece or other susceptible corks. Purely off-the-top-of-my-head guess, but I reckon one-third at least of all recently bottled wines I open are not under 'traditional' cork, though of course I am tasting wines from across the globe, not concentrated on traditional European appellations.
  6. Two back to back bottles of de Montille 2003 from the same case recently but I don't open enough young wines to have statistically relevant observations.

    Claude, if it were so, what might be your leading hypothesis?
  7. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Jeremy, I think Claude is talking about really recently bottled wines - so your Burgs bottled in 2004 probably wouldn't count. I think the situation improved steadily from around the millennium onward, but the much, much lower incidence has probably been with us since around 2008 IMO, when Amorim and others finally got their act together to detect and remove pre-cursor raw materials from the supply chain, and developed treatment processes.

    Reading back on my report from a visit to Amorim in 2008 is interesting, but perhaps even more so is the link in the piece to an article I wrote on cork taint incidence and survey of wine-pages visitors on their experience of corked wines, dating from 1999 :)
  8. I actually can't remember when I last encountered a corked bottle. I also can't recall when I last had bottle with a plastic cork - either the solid,coloured ones or those made to resemble a cork.
  9. Thanks for the link, Tom.

    If you happen to be in touch with Druet it'd be interesting to hear what his ullage experiments have found over the years since.
    Tom Cannavan likes this.
  10. Are we talking specifically TCA affected corks?
  11. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Phil, that's what I'm referring to specifically and exclusively in my comments, but yes, it's a good point that Claude or others might be including other cork-related faults like oxygen ingress, so it is worth clarifying.
  12. I had a really bad run several months ago where five out of seven bottles I opened over several days had TCA to some degree or another. Since then the incidence of corked bottles has been fairly low thankfully. I do open quite a mix of young and old, old world and new, with a real mixture of cork/diam/screwcap closures. Certainly nothing like the 'bad 'ol days' of NZ in the mid to late '90s where cork taint or oxidation routinely affected somewhere between 1 in 10 to 1 in 12 bottles in my experience.
  13. Not a particularly high incidence but the 2 wines I have had TCA affected recently have both been Spanish and also not very widely available so very annoying. Got y money back on one though and bought a bunch of lowers for the mrs. with the refund so it all came up smelling of roses!
  14. I was referring to TCA-affected wines from vintages 2017, 2016, and there may have been some 2015s. Most have not been badly affected, but enough to spoil the wine for me. I'm fairly sensitive to TCA (probably 85-90th percentile +/-); with the most recent bottle, some other people at the same table had no problem with the wine, but others of us did.
  15. Any thoughts on why it might be increasing, Claude?
  16. Is 5% the increase or the absolute level?
  17. Absolute level, up from 1-2% just a year ago.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2018
  18. The only possibilities I can think of that makes sense are that the cork manufacturers have gotten sloppy again and/or are seeking to increase margins by taking shortcuts -- possibly because they've lost so much business to alternative closures. But again, this is only my anecdotal experience and I'm asking if others are noticing the same.
  19. it's really only going to be apparent to those ITB who go to or organise en masse tastings with newly bottled wines. As an ordinary punter I've not noticed any pattern - you win some, you lose some
  20. Or wine producers are similarly seeking to contain costs and have started buying corks from some of the smaller less expensive but less well equipped [facilities, processes, testing] cork producers or perhaps, additionally, are not taking as much care with their own examination/testing or even protective care of their corks prior to bottling since haloanisoles are widely present in the environment.

    Of course if your experience of TCA in recent bottling includes top producers this explanation seems unlikely but perhaps a possibility for less successful producers under economic pressure.

    Clearly the major cork producers like Amorim have been successful in greatly reducing TCA in their products allowing them to make quality/Non-Detection guarantees. For example, even a significant producer like Laroche, who was one of the earliest [and rare] French producers to embrace the screwcap in 2001 even for their 1er and Grand Crus, are again bottling these wines under natural cork - Amorim's NDTech. OTOH there are also more and more DIAM-closed wines including 1er and GC.

    While a 'loss of business to alternative closures' might provide a rationale for cost-cutting to maintain profitability the possibility that it would induce the major cork producers to allow quality standards to deteriorate again seems unlikely since it was fear of business loss to alternatives that finally forced the major cork producers, after decades of complacency, to get their act together. In addition looking at Amorim's financial and volume performance in recent years it seems unlikely that provides any rationale at least for them.

    However your experience is interesting and, if it is more than a simple anomaly, it would be good to find out what might have caused it even though the variables involved in seeking an answer are many.
    Clearly your first question to the Wine.Pages forum is the logical starting point and may be as far as you are interested in pursuing it.

    However few in the forum are likely to have opened anything like the number of corked-closed wines for 2016 and 2017 you have and Tom has provided his answer. I certainly realise that my own experience would provide no useful evidence although if you continue to experience this level of failure I hope you will continue to report it here.

    I know closure debates have provoked a lot of excited and polarised argument in the past but that seems to have passed and the much less frequent closure discussions on wine forums have been much more focused on technological innovation and the research into how modern closures are performing rather than which is ultimately the 'best' since all still have their pros and cons - and the cons are better understood and have been and continue to be substantially addressed by their protagonists.

    Were there any common features/focus in the bottles affected? Were the TCA affected wines from top producers or high priced wines or not? Were the rogue bottles in any way focused on producer, region or type. Were they red, white or rose? Were the corks in any way distinctive/different from what you would have expected e.g. shorter, less smooth, with significant blemishes/lenticles?
  21. Wines were all from top producers and were both red and white. Interestingly, from Mosel and Piedmont, I had more than one corked bottle from the same producers. From France, the corked bottles were from various regions but were all well-respected producers. Nothing anomalous in appearance of the corks.
  22. Claude, what sort of sample size are we talking about, and is it really large enough for such a fluctuation to be interpreted as a meaningful trend?
  23. Hmm, just thinking back over the last six months and corks (that is, eliminating bottles with screwcaps and composition cork closures), it's maybe 100-125 bottles. But if it's no more than that, then my corked rate is higher, maybe more like 8-10%. There were also some corked bottles presented at large sit-down tastings for journalists that I attended, but since I don't know how many corked bottles were eliminated prior to the corked bottles I sampled, I've ignored those tastings.

    Edit for clarity.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
  24. tomorrow's festival of wine might provide some evidence Claude as I think the majority of wines on show are relatively young - I know tom will be hellishly busy all day but perhaps there might be a chance to get him to ask the exhibitors to keep a note. Quite how many will be straight cork closed though is good question.

    Quite how many make it onto the tables anyway might be another !!! ;)

Share This Page