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Put A Cork In It?

Fewer sales reps are more paranoid these days than cork salespeople. They barrage you with emails damning all other types of closures. At trade shows they meet winemakers with frigid stares that have changed over from cork to something else.

The battle is fully engaged on what is the best closure for a wine bottle and as always, in the heat of battle there is often more confusion than fact. Much as a war correspondent sees through the smoke of conflict, writer George Taber has cut through all the brouhaha to offer us a clear look at the cork conflict in his book, To Cork or Not to Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science and The Battle for the Wine Bottle. Taber is also the author of Judgment of Paris, which is bound for the big Hollywood screen. The journalistic temperament that Taber brings to his book, a rarity in wine writing, should be no surprise as he is a twenty-one year veteran of Time Magazine.

The combat is about the dreaded TCA (2,4,6 trichloroanisole) that destroys anywhere (depending on whose giving the stats) from 3% to 15% or so of every bottle of wine sealed with a cork in the world. These are the so called “corked” bottles as wines spoiled by TCA have a distinct musty character that can range from the wine seeming just not quite right, to bottles that almost make you gag. What makes TCA the nightmare of winemakers it that most affected bottles are consumed by unsuspecting consumers that are unaware the the wines are actually spoiled, instead thinking that whatever the winery is just doesn’t make very good wine. This dramatic rate of failure combined with disastrous PR has turned many wineries away from natural cork to closures like screwcaps, crown caps and glass stoppers.

To Cork or Not to Cork is a must read for wine professionals and aficionados alike. Don’t expect to have the best closure revealed in the last chapter as Taber presents the whole story without judgment as you would expect from someone with his journalistic credentials.

As Taber points out, all closures currently in use have potential issues so the jury is still out and the closure of the future probably is not invented yet. My major issue with many cork fundamentalists is the constant reference to the tradition of cork and the romance of the ritual and sound of pulling a cork. Screw tradition, the argument should always be about wine quality not superficial issues like romance. What’s romantic about a corked bottle of $50 wine?

Perhaps in the end the solution will be different closures for different wines. After all, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir age very differently and what is good for one may not be good for the other. Put a cork in it? The answer seems to be sometimes yes and sometimes no. Whatever happens in the future, the century old monopoly of the cork is over.
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