The great closure debate: Corked wines? What corked wines?

A little while a go, I worte about how Decanter had moved into the debate about corks and screwcaps by siding with the screwy side of the argument. If corked wines are a huge problem – up to 12% of wines are corked, according to some wildly flung statements -, then it is time to take a stand.

But again, where do those percentages, like the 12% stated on some web sites, actually come from? Hard to tell. Nobody mentions any clear statistics, and those that have taken a personal sample of their tastings, for several hundred bottles a year, come out at much lower levels.

So is cork taint actually such a huge, wine-world-shattering problem?

Check these figures out.

Recently, a newspaper in Quebec obtained documents from SAQ about defective products returned to the stores, something they received under the Access to Information Law, which forces public bodies to deliver certain information, whether they want to or not, because of public interest. The yearly amount refunded by SAQ is 2.1 million dollars. Out of total yearly sales of 2.29 billion dollars. Not even 0.1% of a really big sample.

And that includes all defective products, whether spirits, beer or wine, and all types of defects (flat or skunky beer, oxidized products and, yes, corked wines, and so much more). Even if we were to assume that all the products were corked wines, that would still be only 0,12% of wine sales in Quebec, which amount to 1.7 billion dollars a year. And even if we multiply that figure by four or five, to account for people who don’t taste the difference, cellared bottles, people who don’t bother to bring back corked wine because of the hassle, very shy people who are scared of bringing them in, we’re nowhere near 1%.

So, tell me again: what is the big problem with corked wines already?

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3 Comments

  1. Posted August 4, 2008 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    It’s strange, because my own experience with corked wine is definitely much greater than 1%, probably less than 10%, but not much less (5%-7% maybe?). So what does that mean? Do I have an abnormally low TCA threshold (yes, that’s part of it)? Do I every once in a while hallucinate and think a wine is corked when there is some other low-level flaw? Yes, that’s probably part of it, too. But I suspect that the “real” number is still much higher than you’re guessing. One thing you didn’t take into account was the percentage of SAQ wine sales from wines under cork (though I suspect that’s high, so not a major factor). You’ve thoughtfully multiplied the statistic by 5 to account for people who don’t know the wine is corked or don’t bother to return it. I expect that multiplier is much much higher, maybe 20-50? I think very very few people return corked wines.

    Either that or the producers band together to send all their corked wines to my local wine shops ;-)

  2. winecase
    Posted August 4, 2008 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    My experience is well above 0.1% too, Doug, but the figures really beg the question about what the real percentage of cork taint (not all attributable to corks, by the way) actually is.

    You say “I suspect that the real number is still much higher than you’re guessing”. Maybe, maybe not. But this is the closest to an actual, signficant sample I’ve found. There’s just been too much guessing and re-statement of statistics thrown in to the debate by sometimes interested parties. It feels a bit like Fox News commentators using “some say that…”. Who’s “some”?

    One thing is for sure, according to me: those SAQ figures in no way support anything like 10% cork taint.

  3. Posted September 16, 2008 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    We aren’t the problem with corked wines as much as the consumers are. I don’t give much weight to the returns for corked wines because most casual consumers aren’t savvy enough to recognize corked wines. I’m not being a snob here. I remember drinking corked wines when I started trying to understand wine. I’ve been served corked wines by the glass in restaurants where others around me are drinking the same wine with gusto. Either they think it’s supposed to taste that way or they’re too afraid of coming across like a jerk for sending a wine back.

    Working as a Sommelier I’d say about 5% of the bottles I opened had cork defects (either taint or oxidation) with some particular wines going up to 10% (bad batch of corks?).

    Even a 2% failure rate would be considered a disaster in any other industry. Imagine 2% of Toyotas don’t start in the morning.

    What it comes down to is: The fear that a consumer tastes your wine that has a cork problem, thinks the wine is supposed to taste like that and tells everyone how nasty your wine was…

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] on the Open Wine Consortium regarding the actual prevalence of cork taint in wines. It followed a previous blog post on data from the Société des alcools du Québec, our very own state monopoly, that suggests cork taint should be present in well below 1% of all [...]

  2. [...] you like a little science with your wine? After I posted about the incidence of cork taint in wines, and started a discussion on Open Wine Consortium about the subject, I did a fair bit of searching [...]

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