Cork comeback

Time to put a cork in speculation about demise of natural wine corks.

Plastic corks and screw caps were next big thing in 1990s. Bad practices in Portugal promoted bad cork, which created “corked” wine—tainted stuff that smells and tastes of wet cardboard. At crest of cork taint complaints, fastidious critics claimed one in every twelve bottles suffered some form of cork corruption.

Portugal, world-dominant cork producer, cleaned up its act. Literally, since problem flows from failure to correctly clean raw cork. Today, cork is coming back as preferred closure.

Through first half of 2011, sales of cork-sealed bottles of U.S. premium wines enjoyed an almost-14 percent increase over 2010. At the same time, sales of wines sealed with screw caps or plastic fell more than 10 percent.

“Americans overwhelmingly prefer cork, and wineries are responding to that demand. Meanwhile, the quality of cork has improved dramatically while drawbacks have emerged for alternative closures,” Peter Weber of the Cork Quality Council contentedly coos about cork.

Cork champions claim only cork enables the many chemical and physical processes that work magic while wine ages in a bottle. In particular, cork allows a tiny amount of oxygen contact, which artificial closures do not.

For value-priced wines made to be consumed upon release, closure is non-issue. Shoot, a plastic bag in a cardboard box works. For better wines, there’s no end in sight for cork’s reign as closure king.


• Francois Montand Blanc de Blancs Brut. Big sparkling value; apples, melons, lemon, freshly baked bread. France. $14

• Cévoles Celler Cérvoles. Delicious blend of tempranillo, cab, garnacha, merlot. Deep cherry red color; fruit jam and chocolate, voluptuous. Spain, Costers del Segre. $21

• Orin Swift Palermo. Cab and merlot; dark berries; big entrance, soft tannins mid-palate, flourish at finish. Napa. $31

• Ramian Estate Chapter 7. Bordeaux blend. Old World elegance, New World oak, unfiltered and unfined, rich and opulent. Napa. $65