To Cork or Not To Cork (Book Review)

Posted by Keith Wallace

To Cork or Not To Cork

The market for wine-bottle closures is a $4 billion battlefield where an epic confrontation is now taking place.

George Taber, from To Cork or Not To Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle, Scribner, 2007.

Judgement of Paris

The much-needed discussion about wine closures is upon us, and none other than George M. Taber is taking the podium.  A former reporter and editor of Time Magazine, Taber is no stranger to wine. His earlier book Judgement of Paris captured the moment when California bested the great wines of Bordeaux, and it quickly became the definitive text on the subject.  Taber has once again brought clarity to a major controversy in the wine world with his new book.

Why Cork?

For many unquaffing folks, a book on cork may seem extraordinary. And to date, never have closures – and their respective stories – been drawn in such fascinating light. (It is believed that “cork” makes its first appearance in the English language in Shakespeare’s As You Like It – one of the many interesting tidbits Taber offers up in his book).

Taber is an insightful man with a journalist’s acumen and avid curiosity. He is unafraid to tackle controversial subjects and began his research on the cork when the wine industry was still covering up the percentage of cork taint they were experiencing and the race to create a better closure was beginning. Along the way, Taber reveals that cork taint the only problem affecting wines (screwcaps, we find, have flaws of their own) and that a greater problem lies in the fact that so very little is known – to date – about the chemistry of wine.

A Rising Controversy Over Wine Enclosures

There are many people on many sides of this debate espousing differing opinions rife with passion. So it only makes sense that there is bound to be drama as well as folly. And To Cork or Not To Cork does not disappoint. The reporter that he is, Taber, does not shy away from showing us how people in the business too often ignore science and makeup statistics to boost their own deeply embedded opinions on the perfect closure. But, as it were, there happens to be something to be said for cork. As there does for screwcaps. As there does for glass. (Not so much for plastic).

Taber sums it up best when stating at the book’s end that wine should be judged by the quality of the product, not by its container. And that various industries – at present – are no longer accepting so many wines going bad under many different closures is an excellent thing.

As to the question? It is finally under continued discussion. And that, in itself, is some kind of answer.

“I would thou couldst
stammer, that thou mightst pour this concealed man
out of thy mouth, as wine comes out of a narrow-mouthed bottle,
either too much at once, or none at
all. I pray thee, take the cork out of thy mouth that
I may drink thy tidings.” – Act III, scene 2

William Shakespeare, Scenes from the Comedies and Histories

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