A story in the October 31 Wine Spectator gained my immediate attention because it was either plain wrong or misreported. An enology professor at Purdue University (where the annual Indy Wine Competition is held) Christian Butzke was reported as saying that cork taint (TCA) was on the decline; and that its incidence in cork-closed wines was less than one per cent.

That same report sent renowned Australian Gourmet Traveller writer and wine reviewer Huon Hooke on a similar path to this writer to review the current status of cork intervention during the enjoyment of your chosen bottle. As luck would have it most southern hemisphere wines are now closed with screw caps so that the ability to detect a cork tainted wine has dropped immeasurably.

But imported European wines remain on the increase and they are generally closed with cork. The best evidence of how destructive cork can be was at a recent 2005 vintage White Bordeaux versus McWilliams Lovedale Semillon tasting held in Sydney in September www.langtons.com.au/magazine/caillard. This was reported by my colleague Andrew Caillard MW who pointed out two bottles of Chateau Haut Brion Blanc 2005 were destroyed by cork taint and a virtual waste of the AUD 2000 spent purchasing them for this tasting.

Therefore there remains a high chance that you will be dudded at whatever price point you buy wine closed with cork-it’s just a matter of what percentage of times this is likely to occur that screams in my mind. In the case of the Haut Brion Blanc it was thirty-three percent (two out of a case of six)!

The best independent determinant of this percentage is the organisation which conducts the annual Advanced Wine Assessment Courses for budding wine judges – the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI). They are an internationally-recognized group which publicises the latest in wine knowledge.

The AWRI says it had run at 8 percent for years but has dropped to around 6 percent now. Still too high though and confrontingly different from the good US professor’s report. More course participants will become part of believing the AWRI’s claims as they now take this successful event to the United Kingdom and Asia in the higher level education about wine faults.

Despite the public relations blast coming out of the Amorim camp (they own the largest part of the cork market) there is still intense technical research scrutiny over the preformance of all closures. If it were not why would one of the first international collaborative commercial closure trials ever have been bottled in Australia last August?

Wineries who wish to be involved can still do so by contacting Dr Terry Lee (a previous director of AWRI and a former Vice President of E&J Gallo), now retired but still clever enough to drive this closure investigation and put another nail into the natural cork coffin.

I think highly of the particle cork product DIAM, and it prevents cork problems. It’s new brother MYTIK, the sparkling cork made from the same TCA-free material is excellent. MYTIK sparkling corks are now the exclusive choice of Champagne Moet and Chandon’s 100,000 annual cases of sparkling Chandon Australia range of wines.

On November 14 The Weekend Australian Magazine writer James Halliday revealed his Top 100 wines – and tasted 1652 wines to find them. For under AUD 20 whites, 0.4% were under cork, under AUD 20 reds, 0.08% under cork, over AUD 20 whites 3.9% under cork and over AUD 20 reds 25.7% under cork.

No doubt the major choice of the over AUD 20 reds was non-natural cork to dodge the TCA.

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