George Taber stopped by my office in Napa on Friday.
The Block Island, R.I., author is researching a new book, Battle For The Bottle, which is about wine closures.
Specifically it’s about cork--its past, present and future (?)--and its challengers: synthetics, twist offs, glass tops, crown caps and whatever alternatives might emerge in coming years.
Taber’s last book, Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine (Scribner 2005) chronicled the famous Paris tasting of 1976. Think what you may about the results of that showdown and what they really meant. But it’s a well-written and well-researched book and a great read for anyone interested in the events that shaped the California wine industry in the early 1970s.
Taber intends to bring that same set of reporter’s eyes and ears to Battle For The Bottle. He told me he’s coming into the subject open-minded and without prejudice and hopes to end the book the same way. “I’m not an advocate one way or another,” he said.
Which is good and as it should be. He’s a journalist – as opposed to a wine critic or consumer advocate – and it's appropriate that he provide a balanced view of this subject.
Whether he can bring as much life and intrigue to the subject of wine closures as he did to the Paris tasting remains to be seen, though surely there must be a few characters out there who will make for insightful reading.
It's doubtful that it will be a page-turner with a happy ending. But it will likely be both greatly anticipated and devoured by winemakers, retailers and restaurateurs, or anyone who has the slightest curiosity about whether corks are getting the job done, or in my view, sadly failing us.
Taber's interest in interviewing me stemmed from my experience in witnessing the escalation of cork taint (TCA) and the rise of alternatives to natural cork.
Like him, I’m curious about why corks seemingly got worse in the mid-1980s, which is when I started noticing the problem. (I don’t recall encountering that many “corked” bottles among the wines I drank from the 1960s and 1970s.) The situation has, in my view, only deteriorated since then. Is it due to the proliferation in cork use or perhaps the methods used to clean them, such as chlorine baths and the like?
The number of wineries who have abandoned cork suggests that producers are also aware of cork’s shortcomings and believe that most wines, which are consumed shortly after purchase, really don’t need a closure that is designed for longer-term cellaring but suffers a high rate of failure.
I'm curious, too, about your experiences with corks. What percentage of the wines you open, do you consider flawed? And is the flaw obvious TCA taint or more subtle corkiness that simply makes a wine that you usually love taste dull or muted?
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