To Cork or Not to Cork

By GEORGE TABER

Never heard of trichloroanisole? If you’ve ever opened a bottle of wine only to discover that it’s been ruined by a terrible wet-cardboard aroma, then you’ve run into the nasty little compound responsible for untold grief within the wine industry. This “cork taint” has plagued both the ancient chƒteaux of France and the upstart wineries of Australia and California, and can contaminate the cork at many steps along its journey from the bark of a tree to the neck of the bottle. It’s so odoriferous that a single teaspoon “is enough to taint the entire annual American wine production.” In the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of wineries found themselves in perilous straits due to problems with corks, and so a venerable tradition found itself under seige from new technologies, with space-age plastic corks and screw-tops hailed by some as the next wave in bottling. George Taber’s The Judgment of Paris chronicles the famous challenge to French wine supremacy by emerging California vineyards; this book draws on the author’s exhaustive knowledge of the industry, from the Portuguese cork barons to the chemists and engineers who continue the search for the “perfect closure.” The level of detail herein may chiefly interest only the most besotted of oenophiles. But even the casual tippler will find this look into the science and business of wine making an invaluable education. You’ll never look at that little cork quite the the same way again. -