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Published:  23 July, 2008

By David Williams

The benchmark figure' for the number of bottles of wine in the UK affected by commercially significant levels of mustiness' is between 0.7% and 1.2%, according to a report published by the Wine and Spirit Association (WSA) last week. The report was based on a study into the incidence of mustiness in 13,780 samples provided by a consortium of 18 companies over the course of a year and collated and interpreted by the Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association (CCFRA). Bottles were first evaluated by assessors at the participating companies, with those considered to be musty then tasted by a panel of verifiers approved by the consortium, and finally sent on to assessors at one of two independent bodies, Corkwise or DBQA. The study, which included wines from 17 countries, found that the occurrence of verified' mustiness was limited to wines with cork closures (which made up 86% of the total wines tested). The incidence of mustiness was significantly higher' in white wines than reds, but in sparkling wines there was no verified incident of mustiness. Italy had the lowest incidence of verified mustiness, while the US had the highest incidence of suspected mustiness (as reported by the trade tasters), although the verified total was much lower. Non-vintage wines and those bottled in 2001 were significantly' lower than wines from previous vintages. The report also suggested that the baseline figure' for the total number of commercially significant defective wines' is around' 3.4%. This was based on the number of defective wines reported by assessors at the participating companies, as only wines with suspected mustiness' were sent for verification. Barry Sutton, chairman of the consortium, said that mustiness was not as big a problem as was assumed two or three years ago. But with 1 million cases out of a 100 million case market affected with mustiness and 3.5 million cases probably defective, it's not a situation that would be accepted with any other product. Now we know the size of the problem, it's time we got on with sorting out.' John Corbet Milward, head of technical and international affairs at the WSA, defended the WSA against accusations that it was favouring the cork industry by following up the study with a cork' rather than a closures' summit in September. The knowledge we have gathered [from the study] is about mustiness, and mustiness relates to cork closures and to no other,' he said. The WSA doesn't give a toss what goes into the bottle; the aim is to eliminate mustiness.'