The subject of real corks versus other bottle closures is a controversial one. I won’t get into all the areas of disagreement in this post but I did want to address one, corked wines. I recently was in a wine bar in Los Angeles and overheard the waiter tell some customers that the reason some wineries are using alternatives to corks such as screw caps and plastic stoppers is that 5% of wines closed with a cork will become corked. This is not the first time I have heard that claim.
A corked wine is a wine that tastes bad due to a mold infection in the cork. Some people describe it as tasting like wet cardboard. To me it tastes and smells like cork. I have had corked wines but I have to say that the incidence is way under 5%, probably under 1%.
I can come up with two explanations for that. 1) The number just isn’t right; or 2) The producers of the wines I drink take care in their cork selection. Just a quick note: a significant portion of the wines I drink cost under $25 a bottle. It is a very special occasion for me to drink one that costs over $75 at the time of purchase. So it is not the cost that makes the difference.
The truth may be a combination of the two explanations and I have some thoughts on the first factor. As stated above, a corked wine is one that has been closed with an infected cork. Not all bad wines are corked. Not even all wines with bad corks are corked. Most of the bad bottles of wine I have had were not corked but improperly stored or shipped. If a wine bottle is not kept near horizontal to keep the cork moist, the cork will eventually dry out and all kinds of bad things can happen to the wine. If the cork also deteriorates, as can happen, people blame the bad wine on the cork and call it “corked”.
So if your wine tastes cooked, oxidized, like pickle juice, or anything other than like cardboard or cork, don’t say your wine is corked. Instead it is time to look for a better place to buy your wine.