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Is Cork Taint on the Run?

by David on January 4, 2007

Tom Wark has just whispered what you’d think the cork industry would be shouting: “I have to admit that of late it seems I’ve encountered far fewer “corked” wines than in the past. I’ve no solid, scientific evidence to know this. It just seems this way.” I like to think that this casual observation reflects a rapidly changing reality.

I did an interview with our cork supplier, Heinz Heidenreich of Cork Supply USA, for goosecross.com last summer and between what he said and what I’ve read since, it seems that cork taint may soon become a non-issue. Can you imagine?????As far as I can tell, there are 2 key things happening. One is that quality control has been massively improved. It used to be that we’d do a sensory evaluation on a relative handful of corks from a bale of 10,000. It was woefully inadequate because of the small sample size and the fallibility of the human senses.

Within the last few years “solid-phase microextraction” has become available for identifying TCA. According to Heinz these tests can be conducted on the whole bale and can assure that the level is below 1 part per trillion TCA (human threshold is 4 to 8 parts per trillion for most of us according to the industry). Jim Laube, who seems to be obsessed with the topic, has said that he and others can detect levels as low as 1-2 ppt.)

The second thing is that methods of purging TCA and other off odors from the cork are being developed. We’ve known for awhile now that they can remove TCA from cork particles, for instance there’s the Diam technical (or agglomerated) cork by Sabat, the globe’s second largest cork producer, which “uses supercritical CO2 for selective extraction of volatile compounds from cork.” But, now Cork Supply says they’ve developed a system to remove the TCA from a solid piece of cork, not just the granules, called Innocork.

And Amorim, the world’s largest cork producer, and another proponent of solid phase microextration, has a system called Rosa to extract TCA.

Now, I know all this information is coming from sources that are anything but impartial, but taken all together it sends a message that the cork industry has finally gotten off of its keister to solve the whole cork taint issue. For me, the most amusing moment in the interview with Heinz was when he readily admitted that up to about 8 years ago, the cork industry really didn’t much care about our little problem with TCA. It was only when plastic corks and screw caps began to threaten their livelihood that they decided maybe they should get their act together. Ah, humans! Gotta love ‘em…

And all of this quality control and purging comes at a price. It seems to me that if a producer doesn’t want to pay for the extra quality control, they should use one of the many excellent alternatives to natural cork. Do us all a favor…

Anyway, like Tom, I just can’t remember pulling the cork on very many tainted bottles in the past year or so, and between work and play I open a whole lot of wine.Pretty ironic, huh, now that plastic corks and screw caps have become more acceptable to us by the day? Not to mention other options like the Zork and the glass stoppers.

These are truly marvelous developments because they mean that we’re on the threshold of being able to select the closure that best serves the wine or, alternatively, the one that we think will make our customers happy. Some producers think that the screw cap is absolutely the way to go with fresh, fruity whites and spritzy wines.

Most think that for the long haul, natural cork is still the best option in case this concern about screw caps and reduction is founded in reality.

Will there be a place for plastics when the cork dust settles? Hmmm.

How will we be sealing our wine 25 years from now? Anyone care to place a bet????

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