Once each year, I join a group of friends for a tasting called Best of Cellar: sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. This year, it had all the hallmarks. Let me start by noting that one of the nine bottles that I brought was 1982 Chateau Margaux. Yeah, it’s called Best of Cellar, right?
Except that we had a few corked wines. How many? Uhm, maybe more than a few. We opened about thirty-six wines (the numbers always get fuzzy at some point) and six of them were corked. And it wasn’t just any six bottles. They were:
1994 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon – corked!
1988 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle – corked!
1988 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Gold Kapsule Auslese – corked!
1990 Karthausershofberg Eitelsbacher Auslese – corked!
1993 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese – corked!
and most ignominiously…
1985 double magnum Chateau Lynch Bages – corked!
Six out of thirty-six is something like seventeen percent. Bear in mind that the cork industry is boasting that the incidence of corked wines is down to one or two percent. Lately, I have seen that number, though that may be due to the higher incidence of synthetic corks and screwcaps.
My recent experience not withstanding, the frequency of corked wines is down, I’ll allow that. At my recent United Airlines tastings, I saw only a handful of corked bottles, out of about one thousand bottles that were tasted over the eight days of the taste-off. Indeed, I was more frequently aroused to ire by the glue-like smells of some of the wines that were closed with so-called twintop closures. It turned into a game after a while: I would taste through thirty or forty wines and then call out the bottles that smelled like a twintop closure, without of course looking at the cork. The telltale smell of glue is annoying; I have no idea why vintners still use those corks.
With standard corks, things are better; I believe that. But that’s of little solace to my friends and I who endured hundreds of dollars of spoilage and wasted time and cellar space. Trust me, we ain’t rich, we just drink like we are. The ugly truth is that fifteen and twenty years ago, things were very, very bad. And we are unlucky to have been collecting wine at that time, when cork taint was seemingly everywhere.
I’m not saying you should go out and trash all your 1980’s and early 1990’s wines. There’s a far better than even chance the wines are perfectly sound. But I’m not going to forgive the cork industry anytime soon (sorry, Prince Charles). And every time I have this many corked wines, my anger burns anew.