You go to a supermarket. You buy a box of 18 eggs. 3 of them are rotten and inedible, but you only discover this as you’re cracking them for an omelette. Would you buy eggs again, at that shop or another?
I wouldn’t. In the last big tasting I organised, of the 18 bottles of wine I brought to the table, 2 were corked and another was so reductive that it must have been a bottling issue.
When I tasted the 1,000 rosés for our Guide this spring, over 60 of those rosés were reductive, 4 were corked, and two estates were in the unenviable position of having sent no fewer than 12 bottles between them that were either heavily oxidised or smelt of, well, sick. The backup bottles also were faulty.
Am I buying the wrong wines, you might ask? Not so - in this last tasting of 18, the faulty wines were all from reputable Burgundy producers. No wine is safe from TCA - we have had problems all the way up to €120/bottle.
If anything, the wines most at risk of TCA seem to be the most expensive. The ones with the fully natural cork, rather than the mid-range glass vinolok or the entry-level synthetic or screwcap (at which level, however, reductiveness takes over as the dominant flaw).
These are specifically the wines for which a faulty bottle is the most upsetting - they (in France at least) usually cost more than €20 a bottle, and often are produced in incredibly limited numbers - if it’s tough for a customer (who should be requesting a refund), losing even a handful of bottles after such a long and arduous process must be heartbreaking for any winemaker, especially if volumes are limited to a few thousand bottles at most.
The frequency of corked wines seems to vary from 1 to 10%, and vast progress has been made in wine cellars and by cork manufacturers to lower this, but even if it falls under 1%, is it a risk worth taking, especially if taking premox risks into consideration.
I love corks, and I love the theatre behind a corkscrew (although when I worked as a sommelier, most of my colleagues in the F&B didn’t know how to use one!). The ease of opening a bottle, even in a hurry, if it's a screwcap or glass stopper just can't be overstated. I’m also a big proponent of coravin, and almost every bottle that I get to taste is coravined months to years before it’s eventually opened. It’s a shame, but I find myself calling for the wholesale abandonment of the cork industry.
I've heard arguments for and against natural corks from environmental perspectives - they use vastly more water, but emit significantly less CO2 (in fact, growing trees is good for the environment!), but those same arguments often apply equally well to bag-in-boxes or even tins.
I’ll be the first to admit that screwcaps and cans don’t have the glamour or the magic, but there’s an easy third option.
Glass stoppers are just easier, more reliable, and they look just as slick.