Thursday, 4 July 2002

Corks in the Docks

The case for the prosecution is getting stronger all the time. The other day I was at a famous Burgundy domaine, tasting some of the excellent whites of 2000, bottled a year ago. Out of the ten wines from the proprietor's reserve, two were so tainted by cork mould as to be untastable; their quality, certainly high, could not be judged. To most people they would be undrinkable - at least with any pleasure.

If this was representative, and 10% of the stock of 2000 at the domaine was corky, and the corkiness was recognized and the wine sent back, there would be no margin left and the grower would go out of business. Even if the figure was 5% he would go bust.

What will save him - for now - is the near certainty that his customers will not recognize corkiness for what it is. They will 'merely' think the wine is no good, suffer in silence and (if they remember) shun his label in future.

The grower told me he already buys his corks from Portugal's three most reputed suppliers as an insurance policy. And bad corks are randomly and unpredictably spread between all three. It is apparently nobody's fault. He is already experimenting with all the alternatives, from plastic corks to screwcaps. For his less expensive wines, he says, he is ready to change closures tomorrow. It is only the conservatism of the customer, sentimentally attached to corks and corkscrews, that holds him back and drags out the inevitable end of the poor primitive old cork.

Personally I would like to see screwcaps used on all wines destined for drinking within two years of bottling, without delay. We would all enjoy having guaranteed fresh clean wines, and the corks reserved for the select few wines that may - it is not scientifically certain - benefit from their porosity over years of maturing would be the very best. Anything else, I reckon, is obscurantist nonsense.

If you have a view please let me know, by email, at the Club's web address.

Hugh Johnson,
Club President

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