|Why has natural cork become discredited and why are so many wine producers opting for alternative stoppers such as screwcaps? Says Jamie Goode, “For the last decade the closures debate has been one of the most controversial areas of the world of wine, and although many words have been written on the topic, it’s still not any closer to being settled.”|
Jamie Goode discusses the subject in detail in his excellent article, “The Closures Debate”. An extract follows –
Forty years ago all wine bottles were sealed with natural cork. There was no closures debate, simply because there was no other practical way to seal bottles. The wine trade certainly knew about musty taint (‘corked’ wine), but put up with it. The cork industry was under no pressure to do a betterjob, because they had no competitors. The problem of cork taint really only became a battle ground in the 1980s, and it may well have been because the rate of cork taint began to creep up.
The rise of cork taint is a subject tackled well by George Taber in his recent book, To cork or not to cork. Taber’s view, based on interviews and anecdotal evidence, is that the rate increased in the 80s and 90s for two key reasons.
First of all, the Portuguese revolution in 1974 led to many of the privately owned, carefully managed cork forests falling into common ownership. The result was that the traditional management of these forests was abandoned in favour of a short-term strategy looking for maximum gain. Chemicals were introduced into the forests, and cork was harvested before it should have been. The damage caused led to a drop in quality of the raw materials used for cork production, and the chemicals employed in the forests may have encouraged the production of taint compounds in the bark.
The second factor was the growth in the popularity of bottled wines leading to an increase in demand for cork stoppers in the 80s. Could it be that this increased demand led to a drop
in quality? It is a possibility.
A third factor could simply be that we’ve got a lot better at spotting cork taint. The quality of wines has been rising, and these days even cheap wines are a lot cleaner and fruitier than they used to be. People are fussier about wine quality, and against the background of clean fruity wines cork taint is much more obvious and less likely to be tolerated, even by generally undemanding consumers.
Read the whole article in Sommelier India – The Wine Magazine, January/February 2009, page 23. Subscribe today.