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Sunday, February 10, 2008


TO CORK OR NOT TO CORK; tradition, romance, science, and the battle for the
wine bottle (Scribner, 2007, 278 pages, ISBN 978-0-7432-9934-3, $26US hard
covers) is by George M. Taber, author of "Judgment of Paris" a book of the
year in 2006 for Decanter magazine. And hopefully, this current book too
will also be a Book of the Year. It is the first really significant wine
book to come along in quite some time. Here is this history of sealing
bottles, how cork was discovered, how corks are made, and why corks are
possibly the best and most effective stoppers of all. If it weren't for the
TCA and chlorine compounds, life would be jolly. But it isn't. Taber goes
into the reasons for cork's sudden rise in 2,4,6,-TCA levels, as well as
other chlorine goodies. Modernization has killed the old fashioned cork.
First, the musty taste and smell from TCA's reaction to
chlorine-as-sterlizer. Second, oxidation resulted from the new bottling
lines, which demanded speed for efficiency (they put silicone finishes on
corks in order to quickly seal a bottle, but the finish created gaps
allowing wine to be exposed to air). Both of these increase defective wines
to about 15% of the total. Yet about 10% is the profit margin, and wineries
lost money here. Taber examines the Portuguese cork industry, with its lack
of quality control in the early 1970s after the revolution. He looks at new
closures such as plastic corks and Corq, glass, screw caps (and the various
liners needed), and Zorks. The first test of screw caps for wine was at
Davis in 1950. Essentially, though, it all came down to marketing. Plastic
corks were more acceptable to consumers than screw caps - and they still
are. There is a concluding bibliography (but no end notes) and an index.

Audience and level of use: people who like to read about wine and the

Some interesting or unusual facts: TCA was first identified and named in
1981. A solution was possible, but Taber says that the Portuguese ignored
the problem, hoping that it would go away. They were also afraid that if
they examined their corks, too many of the corks would be rejected.

The downside to this book: a few niggling errors (Gall sold Hearty Burgundy
at retail in five-gallon jugs? Maybe 5 litre jugs. Tin capsules? Maybe lead
capsules for a 1961 Grand Cru Bordeaux. And others...Also, there was no
mention of the "Riesling with a Twist Campaign". The index is not as
comprehensive as one would hope. If you wanted to know about New Zealand
screwcap activities (and there are two whole chapters on this), you'd never
know from the index since there is no entry for New Zealand or any
initiatives. It has all been located within the "screwcap" entry, which is a
long series of sub-entries.

The upside to this book: a well-written, fascinating account of an
engrossing subject.

Quality/Price Rating: 98.

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