High spoilage rate prompts manufacturers to bottle out on corks

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Talking of trees, few issues in the world of wine take up more newsprint than that of corks and screwcaps. Cork is a natural, traditional product that has served the wine industry well over the years, not least corkscrew manufacturers.

But corks have given the wine industry, not to mention consumers, a massive headache because of the growing incidence of cork taint. The TCA taint, or trichloroanisole 2,4,6 to be technical, is a mould that occurs during the cork growing and manufacturing process. Studies show that it affects on average one in 20 bottles of wine, a rate of spoilage that would be unacceptable in any other consumer product.

Few people have anything against cork per se, but the industry has been forced to react to this endemic problem with the introduction of alternative ways of sealing a wine bottle, notably "closures" of synthetic materials, glass and metal.

The most effective stopper to date is the Stelvin closure, better known as the screwcap. Trials have shown that as long as wine is bottled with sufficient oxygen, the screwcap is capable of providing a perfect seal.

But while the industry is convinced that screwcaps do the job, at least on everyday wines, the jury is still out on the comparative effects of cork and screwcap on fine wines that need cellaring.

One of the problems for screwcap is its association in the public mind with the cheap and nasty 1.5 litre bottle. But it's not half as big a problem as that facing the cork industry, which has used the green credentials of the Prince of Wales, and most recently hired Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, to fight cork's corner.

It's not surprising therefore that the Portuguese are furious at the recent decision by one of its own, Quinta do Cotto in the Douro Valley, to launch two of its wines under screwcap.

Perhaps it should be looking at the many alternative uses for cork, since, irrespective of the environmental issues, the consistency of wine quality has been fatally undermined by the intractable problem of cork taint.

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