Opening some 30-odd-year-old wines for a tasting earlier this week reminded me of another reason we should quit sealing wine bottles with corks. They often crumble over time, making the opening of a bottle an ordeal.
Those of us who have been stumping for the mass adoption of workable alternate closures usually focus on the damage corks can do to the wine inside the bottle, mainly cork taint and bottle variation. But there are other reasons. I have lost count of the number of times when, trying to extract the cork on an old bottle, the stopper simple broke in half or the bottom portion crumbled into the wine.
I use an expensive Laguiole corkscrew, but I have decided to give up even on it for anything older than 10 years. Instead I use the two-pronged ah-so, which does not penetrate the cork at all. Rock it in, sliding the prongs between the cork and the bottle neck, and twist it out.
What finally pushed me over the edge was removing the cork on a 26-year-old California sweet Riesling. The helix went through the cork nicely, but when I tried to ease it out, the cork simply broke off about 1/2 inch from its bottom end. I tried to get an ah-so around the orphan piece, but it would not catch well enough to come out. I carefully spiraled the tip of the corkscrew into the remaining bit, but when I tried to pull it out, it crumbled into pieces and fell into the wine.
It took a tea strainer to get all the cork bits out the wine. It was quite dark in color, indicating that oxygen had browned it over time. Although the wine still tasted fine, it might have been even better if the cork had done a better job of keeping the oxygen out. On another bottle the cork came up but some bits fell into the wine anyway.
This struggle to get to the wine was maddening. We put up with it because there were no viable alternatives, but now we have them. If all bottles were sealed by a screw cap or glass stopper, the two most attractive alternatives to corks, this ordeal would never happen.
Ironically, those who defend the status quo most vociferously promote how well wines can age under cork. They never mention how hard it can be, when the wine finally has aged, to actually get to the wine therein.
I have nothing against cork per se. I am, for example, spending several hundred dollars to lay down a cork floor in my remodeled kitchen, and putting up a cork board for posting messages. For stopping up bottles? Please, let’s get past that.
Richard Gangel — San Francisco — March 19, 2010 4:20pm ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento, CA — March 19, 2010 4:35pm ET
Todd Bishop — San Francisco, CA — March 19, 2010 5:15pm ET
David Tietz — Columbus, OH — March 19, 2010 9:59pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — March 20, 2010 3:19am ET
John Reeves — Texas — March 20, 2010 1:12pm ET
Sandy Hamilton — Vancouver, Canada — March 20, 2010 9:28pm ET
Igor Ostrovsky — Boston, MA — March 21, 2010 1:30pm ET
Richard Peske — Los Gatos, CA — March 23, 2010 10:55am ET
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — March 23, 2010 6:06pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — March 23, 2010 6:13pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — March 23, 2010 6:14pm ET
Jeffrey E Paul — Sammamish, WA — March 23, 2010 10:11pm ET
Gary Goldstein — San Francisco — March 24, 2010 1:27am ET
Hoyt Hill Jr — Nashville, TN — March 24, 2010 12:07pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — March 24, 2010 12:17pm ET
Athena Pappas — Porland, OR — April 2, 2010 1:14pm ET
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