Vintners’ debate: Put a cork in it?

Who would have thought a tiny, 2-inch cork could cause such debate. It really does make sense that we give it our attention if you consider that the best wines of the world will spoil and be worthless if a cork goes bad.

It is estimated that 5 percent to 10 percent of wines are “corked,” and the wine industry has seen a lot of them go bad in recent years. The culprit is a substance called trichloroanisole, also known as TCA, that reacts with the wine. TCA is created when the chlorine, used to sanitize the cork, reacts with a mold that grows in some cork. It produces a strong odor that can be detected in minuscule amounts. The best way to describe this aroma is that it smells similar to damp moldy cardboard.

The obvious problem with most “corked” wines is the monetary loss not only to consumers but also to the entire industry. Most likely little fuss occurs when a $7 bottle of corked wine is spoiled, but when it is your $500 bottle of Chateau Margaux it becomes more personal. But, the main issue is the loss to individual collectors, restaurants and retailers who may have paid hundreds of dollars for a wine, cellared it and then more than a decade later discover the taint. It is too late to return it for restitution.

So, what is the wine world to do? For now, just understand that the debate will go on. With several other options for closures, such as synthetic corks and screw caps, we will begin to see other good seals for our wines that obviously are excellent choices to ensure that wines are free of the destructive TCA.

What keeps the debate heated is the argument that these other stoppers will let fine wines age as a natural cork does. Because it takes 5 to 50 years for some wines to age, the vote is still out on which is best – commit to the new screw caps or synthetic corks or cling to the romantic creak of the natural cork.

VALUES

  • 2006 Pasqua Pinot Grigio, Italy (about $10, retail)
  • 2006 d’ Arenberg Stump Jump, Australia (about $11, retail)
  • 2006 Pillar Box Red, Australia (about $12, retail)
  • 2006 Bonny Doon Big House White, California (about $11, retail)

SPLURGES

  • 2007 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $18, retail)
  • 2006 Gemtree Vineyards Shiraz, Australia (about $26, retail)
  • 2005 Turkey Flat Grenache, Australia (about $26, retail)
  • 2007 Mudhouse Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $17, retail)