The now heralded 13 September interview of Vanya Cullen by Decanter has put the cork industry back in its corner where it belongs: dated, old-fashioned and wine-altering.
Expanding further, the incumbent winner of the Decanter World Wine Awards 2010 International Trophy for Chardonnay outlined how anti-green it was to use cork as a preferred closure.
This smacks at the very heart of the cork industry’s ongoing media campaign which serves to play down the percentage incidence of cork damage to wine in general.
Whenever there is any positive news that the cork industry can seize there is usually a blast of information sent to all corners of the globe, based on spin. Australian authorities will often quote around ten percent of corks dud your drinking enjoyment, while Portuguese authorities try to kid you its below one percent.
Most of the international supporting information as to how the cork taint percentage has dropped is flawed; data is often non-statistical or anecdotal, or the people making the assertions are not so highly qualified to provide the level of irrefutable evidence that the cork industry would have you believe.
The only controlled tests I know of are done by Australian scientists, but that is becoming rarer as the Australian industry has moved away from cork, so the sample base has become too small to remain a focus for testing.
And Australian wine scientists have moved on to more compelling aspects of closures such as their non-destructive techniques to measure the ingress of oxygen into wine sealed with any closure type.
No longer is cork quality an argument in Australia-technology moves faster than that.
Vanya Cullen, a biodynamic wine grower in Margaret River is inferring it defies the principles of grapegrowing through to a bottled product where the carbon footprint is expanded by ten percent overall to accommodate for the ten percent loss from cork failure.
That means growing inputs, winemaking inputs and distribution inputs become futile by an additional ten percent.
Part of the packaging- the bottle, cork, carton, divider, label inputs become financially and biologically degraded by the customer having to throw away either a tainted or cork-oxidised wine as the result of cork failure.
It becomes a no brainer that screw cap retrieves the ten percent loss that cork provides.
I can also provide another form of evidence about how corks fail. There is a financial loss, sometimes of great proportion when the producer is far disconnected from the consumer, as with Bordeaux wine. Also many Chinese drinkers must be drinking these wines from failed corks.
Last month the successful family producer Voyager Estate held its Masterclass series of tastings of comparable international styles for the Australian trade and sommeliers.
Their cabernet blend tasting group was: Balnaves The Tally Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 USD 95 (Coonawarra); Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2005 USD 335 (Pauillac, Bordeaux); Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Merlot 2005 USD 115 (Margaret River); Mount Mary Quintet 2005 USD 154 (Yarra Valley); Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 USD 65 (Napa, USA), Te Mata Estate Coleraine Cabernet Merlot 2005 USD 91 (Hawkes Bay NZ), Ornellaia 2005 USD 249 (Bolgheri, Tuscany) and Voyager Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2006 USD 57.50 (Margaret River, WA).
As Voyager winemaker Travis Lemm noted “all the Australian wines under screw cap were spotlessly similar, bottle to bottle. But when it came to the Bordeaux, every bottle varied with some downright cork taint spoilt, but more intriguing was the variance in character with bottles obviously affected by air ingress to the extent that they appeared unsuitable to serve. We clearly did not know what Pichon was supposed to be until we uncorked a bottle which smelt fresh!”
So if I was the owner of Chateau Pichon Longueville Contesse de Lalande in Pauillac I would be very concerned about my brand integrity from this evidence. Nobody enjoys being dudded.
You see one can gamble on the public opening one bottle in isolation, having nothing to benchmark the wine, save experience, memory or current perceptions. When a major winery brand such as Voyager selects two dozen bottles of this wine, product failure though becomes glaringly obvious.
Of interest is one reason why Vanya’s mind was polarised to speak out this way in Decanter. She had recently tasted the thirty year history of her chardonnay; many years were dismal not because of poor wine, just cork failure and oxidation. Year after year had been destroyed by the use of cork.
This makes me wonder about how many wine collectors around the world are sitting on a proportion of dud wines, and don’t know so!
This Cullen story also supports the recent reports of white burgundies from the past twenty years failing to survive their expected, uninsured, longer shelf lives.
At least the Chablis growers have walked away from cork- because such fragile, pristine unwooded wines are more vulnerable to changes due to cork and are thereby merchantable.
And one final rub; if the offending character is cork taint (TCA-old boots smell), then the wine takes this smell up in the first day that it rests on its cork; then sits there spoilt for 5,10,15,20-40 years or more as an undrinkable bottle; usually consuming electrical power in a temperature-controlled environment.
Now we can see how corks become anti-green.
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