To Cork or Not to Cork

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For journalist and author George M. Taber, much of our enjoyment of wine has to do with what he refers to as “the romance of the cork.” Indeed, there is a celebratory, even romantic feeling on hearing the “pop” of a cork pulled from a bottle. Unfortunately, romance sometimes becomes tainted.

Although world wine production mushroomed through the 1990s, the global demand for wine corks dropped about 20%, between 2000 and 2005, according to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report. At the root of this apparently contradictory pattern was an issue called “cork taint,” wherein an infected cork taints the wine in the bottle with a chemical know as Trichloroanisole, or TCA. As the number of reportedly tainted bottles increased, especially through the 1980s and 1990s, the search was on by wine producers and others to find a solution and/or an alternative closure for wine bottles. What led up to this seemingly sudden appearance of cork taint — or, has it been there all along? Why and how this happened is the fascinating subject of George Taber’s new book, To Cork or not to Cork.

So, is “the romance of the cork” dead? Join us as we talk with George about the history, evolution and prognosis of wine bottle closures.

George shares many insights, and more than a few historical nuggets along the way.

To buy the Book Now: Click Here

Sponsor: Champagne USA: www.champagne.us

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Show #182
(58:00 min 40 MB)

FYI: We gave away 3 signed copies of the book to listeners who commented on the show:

- Matt Wessler
- Doug Hackett
- Charlie S Brown

8 Responses to “To Cork or Not to Cork”


  1. 1 Doug Hackett Dec 24th, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Once again a nice job on an interview I found very enjoyable. I had to write in on this because I like to think I am very open-minded with respect to this topic. Mr. Taber absolutely has a point about the “Romance of the Cork” as he puts it.
    I keep some bottles to commemorate very special occasions and also keep all corks in a container in my kitchen. I do not keep screwcaps or plastic or synth corks. That being said, one of the best glasses of Shiraz I have ever had was under screwcap!
    I loved it so much, I did not hesitate to buy and drink more since it was quite delicious and a great bargain in my opinion. I told one of my co-workers about it and recommended he try a bottle. He seemed keen on buying a bottle until I mentioned it was a screw capper. I was surprised as he went on a rant (yes, a rant) about how he would never buy a wine with a screw cap as “presentation” was a big deal to him. I countered with my thought that ultimately, it was what was inside the bottle that counts. This fell on deaf ears as he continued, very adamantly I might add, even that this did not matter to him. At that point, I just shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself that he was passing up some pretty good wines in my opinion but I chose not to further the conversations and kept these thoughts to myself.
    Several weeks later, we visited a wine shop at lunch and he bought a bottle because a label caught his eye. Well, a few days later, he consumed the bottle he bought based on “presentation” and reported to me that it tasted absolutely awful!
    This indeed is the biggest battle for those seeking alternatives to cork. It is indeed a battle of prejudice and pride (remove reverse pun title before submission). I am glad to say I think I would prefer to serve a delicious bottle under screwcap than a kitschy bottle of icky wine! Which would you prefer?

  2. 2 Charlie Dec 27th, 2007 at 11:55 am

    I love the Romance of the Cork! In particular I enjoy the ceremony of sending back the bottle of corked wine after arguing with the sommelier in front of friends or clients – always a great way to start a meal. The romance of opening a wine to celebrate an engagement or anniversary only to have the aroma of wet newspapers fill the glass – what does this portend for the marriage?

    It has to be about the wine in the glass, not the romance in the head. Sure when I was a kid I had Boone’s Farm from a screw cap but that doesn’t meant that the screw-capped wines in my cellar today will evoke those memories from my youth. This issue needs to be informed by science – something Mr. Taber indicated was sorely lacking at the moment – rather than opinion or prejudice. I’m sure that the trend will be to non-cork closures and probably quicker than we expect. There will always be a place for cork the same way there is a place for vinyl records and tube amplifiers. Some audiophiles believe they can tell the difference and I believe they can. I’m equally sure that there is a difference in wines finished in cork compared to wines finished in non-cork closures. I’m also sure that this technological issue can be overcome and when it is the new closures will probably allow even finer control over the bottle aging process to everyone’s benefit.

    Seriously though it was a good show and Mr. Taber’s book is on my list to buy at Amazon.

  3. 3 Matt Wessler Dec 27th, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Gents,
    Nice interview of George Taber. I really enjoyed his first book and this one sounds like another winner. I agree with some of the comments that as future generations get into wine, the image of screwcaps being for “inferior” wines will start to disappear.
    I know personally, for wines that I plan on having less than 5 years, I don’t really care what type of closure is used. With that being said, I do think I would have a hard time buying “old world” wines such as Bordeaux with what I consider to be a “new world” closure. I also think I would have a hard time buying Magnums with a screwcap. I view Magnums as “celebratory” wines because you usually open them when you have a larger gathering of people. I thought it was interesting that the 2005 Woodcutter’s Shiraz has a screwcap for the normal bottle, but a cork (at least I thnk so–it has a wax seal on it) for the magnum. Don’t know if that is because it isn’t worth fitting the bottling line for magnums or if it is a PR move. Anyway, nice podcast.

  4. 4 Bill Curtis Dec 28th, 2007 at 12:41 am

    I have read both of Mr. Taber’s books and have enjoyed them. He did a very good job in getting into the history and showing the pros and cons of all of the closures in the market at this time. I would recommend both to all are interested in wine.

  5. 5 Tim Beauchamp Dec 28th, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    I am not swayed towards or away from cork. I think the Cork or No-Cork debate will go on for a long time.

    When you have a great bottle of wine planned for a dinner, and it turns out to be tainted by TCA, it is a real downer and makes you a screw top believer. But, cork is not the only source of the mold leading to TCA. so even getting rid of the cork won’t solve the problem.

    The idea of coming up with yet another plastic nodule that will live forever in our landfills detracts from the benefit plastic closures.

    Not to inject another environmental debate on this bulletin board (I think the one on the Global Warming thread is still raging), but cork is a renewable resource. There are regional birds, plants, other fauna and flora that depend on this habitat.

    Economically, the cork producing region would be devastated by the collapse of the cork industry.

    I think there is enough room in the wine tent for cork and non-cork closures. Research my be able to to eliminate or reduce cork taint. Let’s hope.

    Tim

  6. 6 DAVID Jan 5th, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Nice Job! One of my personal assignments during my upcoming trip to Portugal is to visit a CORK producer! Now I will have more information (I will be buying the book for sure!). Enjoyable and clearly a topic that will be around a while.

    David

  7. 7 Siobhan Jan 7th, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Hi Guys

    I listened with interest to this interview. I really don’t see what the fuss is about. OK I do come from New Zealand and therefore am probably exposed to a lot more wines under screwcap – at all price points. But I also drink a reasonable amount of french wine. I don’t mind what closure people use so long as the wine in the bottle is delicious to drink and lives up to it’s recommended cellaring potential.

    So far I haven’t really had much of a problem with screwcap wines. I have had the occassional wine thats been affected by reduction but I’ve had more cork closed bottles affected by TCA. Then again I’m also ageing quite a few New Zealand pinots and syrah’s under screwcap so it really is a wait and see game as far as that’s concerned.

    However just because a wine has a cork closure doesn’t necessarily mean that the wine will cellar well. I’ve had plenty of wines where you pull the cork on a bottle which is absolutely stunning and then a week later open its sister bottle – the same in every respect – only to realise that it’s completely past it. If screwcap can solve this as well as TCA problems it will become a run away success.

    Regards

    Siobhan

  8. 8 Tim Jan 8th, 2008 at 6:08 am

    Although I approached this episode with trepidation when I saw the title (how interesting could this subject be?) this quickly became one of my favorite episodes. George Tabor was a fascinating guest, with so much knowledge on the subject that he always had an interesting comment no matter where the conversation went. I would enter the debate only to say that closure makes no difference to me. I have to admit that recently at a restaurant after ordering an unfamiliar bottle of wine, it arrived at our table with a screw cap. Though the show of opening the bottle was gone, I found myself relieved and saying out loud, “At least it won’t have cork taint!” Job well done on the show guys.

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GrapeRadio is a wine talk show. Show topics cover issues such as the enjoyment of wine, wine news and industry trends - the hallmark of the show is interviews with world class guest (winemakers, vineyards owners, wine retail / wholesale leaders, restaurateurs and sommeliers). The scope of the show is international so expect to hear many guests from around the world.

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