(Above: What I had hoped would be a delicious bottle of 2005 Castell’In Villa Chianti Classico was ruined by cork taint.)
Seriously. This question would often plague me during our marathon tastings at Wine & Spirits. Say what you will about tasting a lot of wines at once, but I can’t think of any better method for noticing how many wines come up as corked. And I don’t mean just flawed or otherwise muted — there are plenty of those — but straight up murdered by TCA.
And you know what? When I’d be tasting Italian wines the number of corked wines seemed outrageous. Like anywhere from three to five in a group of 35 wines, compared to say, one, maybe two corked bottles during a comparable tasting of North American wines. And I’m not talking about inexpensive values here (these actually fared better, at least during my tastings), but higher end wines often bearing a DOC or DOCG marque.
So what gives? Is the cork industry unloading crappy corks on the Italians? (I can’t verify this, but I’ve heard from several people that Austrian wineries used to complain about getting shafted by cork producers, and that’s one reason they’re so behind screw caps and the sexy Vino-Lok.)
Do Italian wineries skimp on their cork purchases? Interestingly, Italy seems to lag behind other wine producing countries when it comes to embracing alternative closures. In fact, the Italian wine industry insists on the use of cork. As one importer in the Bay Area put it to me the other day, his Sardinian producer had problems with cork taint and then started to experiment with screwcaps and other closures for his Vermentino di Gallura. Now that Gallura is DOCG, he’s been forced to switch back to cork under the new appellation regulations.
Or has the worldwide boom in wine led to too much pressure on the cork industry, and now invariably there are good corks and bad corks on the market? Or is some combination of all of the above?
These are just my observations, but in the course of many tastings over several years, it was impossible not to notice this many corked wines. And to see such a high number associated with the wines of a particular country is just annoying.