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Corked Wine - what if only you get it?


Craig Camp
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Without claims to any special expertise, I’m just an enthusiastic amateur at best; I believe that “corking” is over diagnosed.  In my experience the problem is not “corking” but often “cooked wine.”  If you read Kermit Lynch’s book he talks about his earliest shipments from France arriving in California in a very different condition that when he tasted them in France.  Sure, they were shipped in un-temperature controlled containers through the Panama Canal and they were cooked. 

The problem often is the improper storage and shipping of wine. It travels in un-temperature controlled trucks, is stored in hot warehouses and stockrooms, sits in cases in kitchen corridors and comes to the table “cooked.”

As to your problem, if you are not ordering, just drink it if its not too bad – or just pass.  Tomorrow there will be another bottle.

Good drinking,

Jmahl

If anything, corked wine is under-diagnosed. Industry figures place the percentage of corked bottles at 5% to 6%. There is nowhere near that number of bottles returned to wholesalers as spoiled by the cork. That means the vast majority of corked bottles are consumed, with the drinker only thinking that "X" Winery makes lousy wine.

While "cooked" wine from poor storage and transportation is certainly a huge problem, you cannot confuse the musty funk of a corked wine with the tired, burned character of a cooked wine.

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TCA can be quite difficult to detect - it is not a question of 'it is easy to detect because it is either corked or not" since cork taint can affect a wine very mildly so that it is not always iimmediately evident.

I have been to numerous tastings where there has been disagreement between experts over whether a wine has TCA.

The other interesting thing is that TCA can crop up even in wines under stelvin, because infection has occured from sources other than cork taint.

I agree that corked wines are under -diagnosed, for the very reason that TCA does not always reveal itself through the obvious aromas of mustiness etc. Lack of fruit and a short finish are also symptoms of a corked wine, but it is quite hard to distinguish between those characteristics, and a wine that is simply poorly made.

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Industry figures place the percentage of corked bottles at 5% to 6%. There is nowhere near that number of bottles returned to wholesalers as spoiled by the cork. That means the vast majority of corked bottles are consumed, with the drinker only thinking that "X" Winery makes lousy wine.

i wouldn't draw that conclusion. many people simply dump it down the drain, never thinking of returning it to a store.

Edited by tommy (log)
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Good points, Morfudd.

This recently happened to me at a small professional tasting with other wine writers, all of whom are well known and highly experienced, with the exception being me. We discussed the merits of the various wines, some of which were very good, and some clearly flawed. One wine was borderline. "It's corked," I said. They ignored me. "No, really, I'm pretty sure it's corked." They continued to politely ignore me. So I just kept murmuring, "It's cooooorked," quietly to myself. It is sometimes difficult to find that line between affirming one's perception and qualifying for the state hospital.

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Industry figures place the percentage of corked bottles at 5% to 6%. There is nowhere near that number of bottles returned to wholesalers as spoiled by the cork. That means the vast majority of corked bottles are consumed, with the drinker only thinking that "X" Winery makes lousy wine.

i wouldn't draw that conclusion. many people simply dump it down the drain, never thinking of returning it to a store.

I agree. We had a corked bottle recently which won't be returned since we live in England and bought it in France a couple of years ago. Fortunately the other bottles that we have opened from the same box have been OK so far so the taint was obviously only on some of the bottles for that vintage.

We have taken at least one other bottle back to a supermarket in England, but we weren't really sure that the shop was going to do anything except pour it down the drain themselves. Our feeling was that it was treated as the customer being unhappy so they replaced it and they certainly made no attempt while we were there to inspect it.

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TCA can be quite difficult to detect - it is not a question of 'it is easy to detect because it is either corked or not" since cork taint can affect a wine very mildly so that it is not always iimmediately evident.

I have been to numerous tastings where there has been disagreement between experts over whether a wine has TCA.

The other interesting thing is that TCA can crop up even in wines under stelvin, because infection has occured from sources other than cork taint.

I agree that corked wines are under -diagnosed, for the very reason that TCA does not always reveal itself through the obvious aromas of mustiness etc. Lack of fruit and a short finish are also symptoms of a corked wine, but it is quite hard to distinguish between those characteristics, and a wine that is simply poorly made.

What we are really talking about here are perceptions.

The human element if you will.

We are also talking about how we perceive an incredibly complex substance.

You are correct that TCA in wine can be due to various problems--not just tainted corks.

You also make a very good point in noting that TCA symptoms include "lack of fruit" and a "short finish."

And, yes, these are also symptoms of other problems , not just TCA.

So on to the human element.

TCA is a real problem--it either exists or it does not. It can certainly manifest itself in varying degrees and based upon people's experience and training or lack thereof as well as one's sensitivities one may also detect it --or not.

We could easily descend into a "tree falls in the forrest...." epistemological debate.

I would also point out that IMOP, the term "corked" has become a catchall for perceived problems with wine and is sometimes abused by both professionals and experts or so called experts as well as the general public.

If one knows what to look for and has some minimal experience with TCA tainted wines then one will be able to "recognize" the problem in most wines where it does, in fact, exist.

we are talking about "there" or "not there". not the degrees of the manifestation.

Yes, sometimes "experts" will disagree--been there. And yes, there are times where I personally have been a bit uncertain about a wine-we are all human. sometimes what I initially perceive as a problem "blows off" or dissipates with aeration or time in the glass.

If one senses the distinct "smell" (in any degree) one starts to look for other symptoms.

By the way, when we say "lack of fruit." IMOP--this is a somewhat vague descriptor. There is a difference in a wine that is merely lacking fruit due to poor wine making and a wine whose fruit is attenuated due to TCA.

Just as a wine that suffers from oxidation problems will have "lack" of fruit.

Anyway--I believe that for real everyday purposes--most people can gain the ability to detect problems most of the time in most cases.

I also believe that the trade is severely remiss in ensuring the quality of their wine.

No wine in any restaurant should be served to the host for his or her approval until the wine has been inspected by the staff who should at least be minimally trained.

And in the end--"the customer is always right" applies especially to wine.

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This is why wine needs FAQ files by the way. Every wine forum online, large or small, experiences a version of this thread with many of the same points.

If anything, corked wine is under-diagnosed. Industry figures place the percentage of corked bottles at 5% to 6%. There is nowhere near that number of bottles returned to wholesalers as spoiled by the cork. That means the vast majority of corked bottles are consumed, with the drinker only thinking that "X" Winery makes lousy wine.
Craig is absolutely right and this is old stuff too. One highly respected European food-wine journalist railed away about this a couple of years ago - "TCA figures [that] even the [wine] industry accepts run around 5 percent," reporting runs at tastings with far higher numbers. An infuriated European sommelier at a high-end restaurant wrote an article "10% cork defects is entirely unacceptable." Unscientifically I track 5-8% over last 100 or so blind tastings. Also it's an objective, measurable contaminant class (interestingly you can get "stat" professional lab work on wine specimens just as with medical specimens).

Part of the issue is variable sensitivity to it, part of course is that not everyone even knows about it. I also agree that the situation calls for tact but that's pretty obvious. If a professional served the wine and you know what you are talking about then you can raise the issue discreetly with that person; if they know their stuff they'll confirm it, I've encountered this many times, in retail and at wineries as well as restaurants. If they don't know their stuff, then you have learned something about that professional or business. If it's not professional service, or a wine-fan group, or a group open to novel experience, then maybe it's best to stay fairly quiet. If they press you for why you don't enthuse over the wine, then you are given the option of raising the topic constructively. The ability to do which is, anyway, a human skill worth keeping in practice.

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This is why wine needs FAQ files by the way.

We do. See the Classic Wine Threads index pinned at the top of the forum for threads with heaviest traffic.

  Every wine forum online, large or small, experiences a version of this thread with many of the same points.

Actually, if you do an advance search for "corked" you will discover that the only lengthy discussions here are this one and the thread on closures, referenced above. We don't get repetitive posts from members counting the exact number, percentage, and cost of corked bottles they have encountered in a lifetime. Although anyone is certainly welcome to start one . . .

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Every wine forum online, large or small, experiences a version of this thread with many of the same points.

Actually, if you do an advance search for "corked" you will discover that the only lengthy discussions here are this one and the thread on closures ...

Yes indeed, I think we're talking about the same thing, Mary. This is this particular forum's Inevitable Corked-Wines Thread. I hope it too ends up in the Classic Wine Threads index because new readers will continue to be interested.

By the way, variation among tasters' sensitivity to cork defect is a truly long-term topic. George Sainstbury in his classic introductory book for wine consumers (Notes on a Cellar-Book), in 1920, described (in language of his own times and style) tasters who were sensitive to various things (in a few cases I think they weren't even wine enthusiasts, but had natural ability). Once he "equivocated," trying to be polite to a host who opened a corked Burgundy; the hostess though nailed it immediately and, finding no help from Saintsbury, insisted on another bottle.

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I'm inspired by this thread to inquire of my local wine tasting groups if anyone would consider hosting a tasting that does comparisons of corked vs. non corked wines. Of course, I guess you don't know whether a wine will be corked or not till you open it, but the idea intrigues me, because I'd like to learn more on how to identify this character.

My question for this thread is:

Cork inspection: if you see that the wine has crept up the side of the cork and even colored the top of the cork, is it a sure indication of a wine that will be bad? And, would this wine be considered oxidized rather than corked?

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...if anyone would consider hosting a tasting that does comparisons of corked vs. non corked wines. Of course, I guess you don't know whether a wine will be corked or not till you open it, but the idea intrigues me

Yes: with any luck, you won't find any corked bottles for comparison.

Were I nearer Seattle I'd gladly offer a sample of a wine opened a year or so ago that was corked up the wazoo -- that being a technical term -- a US Pinot Noir -- it was reclosed and has served as a demo bottle of extreme TCA contamination ever since.

My question for this thread is:  Cork inspection: if you see that the wine has crept up the side of the cork and even colored the top of the cork, is it a sure indication of a wine that will be bad? And, would this wine be considered oxidized rather than corked?

Here is one view: It means that the wine has crept up the side of the cork. That suggests leakage around the cork, such as from a dried cork at some point and/or thermal stress. Though not Good News, it doesn't automatically mean bad wine, or specifically oxidation (something you can tell from sampling the wine, as with TCA but different). Also, all of this is unrelated to "corked" wine (a particular aromatic and fruit-suppressing fault from pungent chemicals developing when certain organisms act on chemical precursors developed when corks are cleaned with chlorine). More info available by search under "trichloranisole" or in wine reference books or a brisk FAQ entry that would summarize this (and if it comes to that, I have one or two things to add to an FAQ list, like advice on the inconsistent meaning of "this side up" instructions printed on wine cartons, and what to do about it).

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TCA can be quite difficult to detect - it is not a question of 'it is easy to detect because it is either corked or not" since cork taint can affect a wine very mildly so that it is not always iimmediately evident.

I have been to numerous tastings where there has been disagreement between experts over whether a wine has TCA.

If I'm tasting a wine in a restaurant then my immediate reaction is either generally either 'it's fine', or 'I'm not sure' and if I'm not sure then it probably means it's corked. In one restaurant I remember when I expressed uncertainty over a Chablis the waiter immediately offered to fetch a replacement ("we've had a few bad bottles of that one"), I couldn't have definitely said it was corked, but the replacement was in a different class.

Of course sometimes it is completely obvious or occasionally you might even hope for the waiter to check the wine first.

We have taken at least one other bottle back to a supermarket in England, but we weren't really sure that the shop was going to do anything except pour it down the drain themselves. Our feeling was that it was treated as the customer being unhappy so they replaced it and they certainly made no attempt while we were there to inspect it.

I'd like to point at that while the supermarket in question wasn't interested in checking our claim that the wine was faulty (probably assuming 'the customer is always right'), what they did do (after first asking whether we wanted a refund or a replacement, and then I think going off to check with someone else) was decide that in such circumstances their policy was to both refund AND replace, so that's one pat on the back for Waitrose.

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