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   Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009





Scary Stuff  (20 February)


For a long time my gut feel was telling me that cork problems were on the increase and the only way to prove it one way or the other was to keep accurate details, so since June 2001 I have been keeping track of all bottles I have opened, (and many bottles friends have opened in front of me.) Bottles opened at wineries have not been tracked. The information has been kept in a spreadsheet so that I could get an accurate picture of how many bottles opened were defective.


For each bottle the spreadsheet tracked:


Date Opened


Type of Seal (Cork, Screwcap, Diam, Other)

Cork Related Fault (TCA or Oxidised)

Non Cork Related Faults (Brett, Reduction etc)

Plus lots more.


The number of bottles tracked is now over 3,000 so the numbers are starting to look meaningful and speak for themselves.


For the purposes of this report, the results for all bottles that were sealed with anything other than natural cork were excluded. All Non Vintage wines were also deleted from the count as there is no way to easy and accurately tell when the corks were made/bottled.  Note: very few of these wines are at the base commercial level; most cost more than $20 per bottle, with many in the $30, $40 and higher price brackets.




Cork Related Faults

Other Faults





1994 and Prior












1995 and 1996












1997 and 1998












1999 and 2000












2001 and 2002












2003 to 2006









Logic would tell you that the older a cork gets, the more likely it would be to fail and the wine oxidise; therefore older bottles of wine should have a higher cork failure rate than younger bottles. A substantial number of the older vintages were opened with significant bottle age, so the cork failure rate for wines from 1996 and older should be higher than those like say 2001 and 2002 where many of them were opened when reasonably young. The youngest bracket, 2003-2006 should have the lowest failure rate as the corks are the newest and there should be fewer oxidised wines.


Thatís the theory, but another factor comes into play. TCA or cork taint.


The table shows that the lowest percentage of cork related issues occurred in the wines from 1994 and earlier. Given the increasing probability of oxidation as wines get older, that can only mean one thing; prior to 1995 we were getting better quality corks.  


By 1998 things were really getting bad. At an horrific 9.9% cork failure rate, no wonder wineries started to look at screwcaps. The table suggests the cork industry got the message and started providing Australia with slightly better quality corks. Or did they?


At first sight it may look like it; by 2000 my cork failure rate was down to 7.9%. It then went up slightly over the next couple of years and then dropped back to 7.9% again in the last bracket. However, two points need to be made.


Firstly, the final bracket should have a lower failure rate as the corks are young and not as many of them should be oxidised due to age. Secondly, and this is most important, over the last six months I have been to many wineries that are still sealing red wine with natural cork and have tasted literally hundreds of bottles sealed with them. In my mind, whilst there may be exceptions in some wineries, generally speaking the number of bottles that I have found to have a cork related problem is not diminishing. If anything, my gut feel tells itís just as bad, if not worse. That is despite the cork industryís claim that they are producing better quality, cleaner corks. The claim may be true for some cork producers, but it is not true across all producers. The problem for consumers is that when they buy a bottle of cork sealed wine, they have no idea if the cork is sound or not.


Given the percentage of dud bottles I am still finding in recently bottled, cork sealed wines, corks are still a major problem. Most people who think otherwise are deluding themselves. Yes, certain wines styles are better suited to cork, but for most producers and consumers, opening a bottle sealed with a cork is a game of Portuguese Roulette


Feel free to submit your comments!

From: michael mcmahon

02/20/2008 07:35:29 I guess as your palate matures you become a bit more sensitive to cork related issues. My feeling is that around 12-15%of wines have some sort of problem ranging from the right off to a bit of bottle stink.

two things that get up my nose a bit are that if you have a cork tainted wine in a case you're almost guaranteed to get more, and that the relative price of a wine is no buffer against cork failure. I also seem to have a lot of problems with crumbling corks in older wines (it's not my cellar ) I really believe the day will come when the cork seal will be seen as ridiculous

From: David

02/20/2008 21:04:31 Following on from Michael's comment It would be interesting to explore potential biases that affect your observations

Sensitivity Bias
See how figures change based on the year opened.

Bottle Age Bias
See how figures change based on the bottle age (Opened - Vintage)

TORB Responds


If you really want to work all that stuff out (which I don't think will prove much) go ahead and do it. I have loaded the raw data here.

Cheers Ric

From: mekaal

02/27/2008 18:36:40 Ric,
I was having a rifle thruogh your spreadsheet to see what you have been drinking and found the words Sauvignon Blanc in there. I think the data must be faulty....

TORB's Response

Bastard `````` There is actually two of them. I opened them up so somone else (like my sister who is allergic to reds) could have a drink.

From: Muzz

03/05/2008 02:55:54 You asked for comment and then wittered because you got too few.

As you have surmised, it is simply that we drinkers have become shell-shocked - or cork-shocked - both Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.

The worst of it is that I have bottles in the cellar going back 20 years (32, if it's Port), and all I shall say is that it is ... disappointing ... when you open up a Grange or a 389 (for e.g.), and the wine is spoilt by TCA. At that age I'll accept oxidation as a risk of cellaring, but not TCA.

The strange thing is that of the premium European wines I have had, fewer suffer from this problem. It is as if Australia and NZ have cornered the market on bad corks.

I'm getting old an cynical.

Oh yes, almost forgot.

Can you fix the date imprint so that it reads properly? Computers are machines which ought to do OUR will - not the other way around.


TORB Responds Muzz, the software that allows the addition of comments is a bit of cobbled together Pearl Script that was put together by the Reject Programmers Shop and given away because they couldn't even sell it as seconds. You get what you pay for my friend. It may not be "flash" but it works.... sort of!

Copyright © Ric Einstein 2008