Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Book Review: To Cork or Not To Cork

Although cork has enjoyed a monopoly as the wine bottle closure of choice for several hundred years, the use of cork has recently become one of the most hotly debated topics in wine today. When it comes to cork everyone seems to have an opinion, and usually it is a strong one. Unfortunately, most of these opinions are based on emotion, and few are based on fact. In To Cork or Not To Cork George M. Taber dispels much of the myth, mystery and misinformation surrounding the debate over cork.

Before To Cork or Not To Cork most of the data from studies on closures had been scattered among trade journals, conference notes and private industry. Even in the digital age, it was difficult for those whose livelihood depended it to make informed decisions about closures, and consumers were for the most part left in the dark - sometimes as strategy. Taber's ability to research a topic rivals that of David McCullough. He conducted countless interviews with winery owners, lab consultants, cork industry professionals, winemakers, and inventors and manufacturers of alternative closures. He scoured through numerous studies examining the performance of different closures, and he presents the information in a format which is both incredibly informative and entertaining. In fact, at times To Cork or Not To Cork reads more like a suspense novel than a book on cork taint.

Taber takes his readers on a journey through wine closure history from the time wine was stored in large clay amphorae and sealed with mud, to modern times in which we have primarily used cork to seal glass bottles. Recently, however, in a reaction to problems with cork quality, producers have been experimenting with closures such as the crown cap, screw cap, plastic plugs, technical corks and glass stoppers. The studies Taber cites on the performance of both cork and alternative closures are fascinating and at times complicated, but his clear and concise writing keeps those of us who were not Chemistry majors from becoming lost. His framework of poignant and entertaining anecdotes is the perfect backdrop for a subject that is probably considered mundane by most.

No matter what your opinion on closures is now, it will likely be different after reading To Cork or Not To Cork. I am not suggesting that you will shift radically from one camp to the other, but you will have much more information from which to draw. Like all great debates, each side has its merits and faults. Taber presents research and anecdotal evidence supporting both sides of the debate, and at times you might find yourself leaning toward whatever side is being presenting at the moment. Taber does not tell the reader there is right or wrong in this debate. He leaves the final verdict for the reader to decide. Even the casual wine drinker will find this book enjoyable, but for the connoisseur, collector, winemaker or cellar rat To Cork or Not To Cork is a must read.

4 comments:

Grape King said...

I think it's a tough decision for many. I for one love the romantic ritual or driving the corkscew through and hearing the soft "pop" of the cork, however that feeling completely disappears if the wine turns out to be corked, and is replaced by disappointment... not to mention loss of $$$.

I'd prefer to see the more expensive glass enclosures instead of a screwtop. Nothing worse than cellaring a expensive wine of a great vintage to find out it's corked a decade later.

Cheers,
Dan

Brad Rothman said...

Thanks for the comment, Dan. I could not agree with you more about how disappointing it is to open a corked bottle - especially from an older vintage that can not be returned. Keep in mind, though, that "corked" has become a catch all phrase for a multitude of defects including oxidation, cooked wine due to poor storage and infections of Brettanomyces and other unwanted microorganisms. True cork taint is caused by TCA, which can even originate in a winery's cellar. On the other hand, cork is clearly not a perfect closure and has earned a reputation as the likely suspect for a reason. I, too, am interested in the new glass closures, but for a red wine to age properly I believe it needs to be exposed to minute levels of oxygen over a long period of time, and cork seems to be the only closure capable of achieving this. However, when a closure is invented that keeps my wine safe from oxidation, allows it to properly age and eliminates TCA contamination from cork I'll gladly retire my corkscrew.

arthur said...

This is a nice article,it is very difficult to say that how to drive the cork screw.But it is safe from oxidation by using cork
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Richard Arthur
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shipps said...

The best cork I hear comes from Portugal. Do the best wines always import thier cork from Portugal? What is it about Portugal's conditions that make thier cork trees so world famous.