Somehow or other, myself and two other supposed 'experts' managed to fill a whole hour of National Public Radio airtime in the US last week discussing the various possible methods of stoppering a wine bottle on their regular morning programme 'The Connection'.
The other participants were Tom Mackey of St Francis winery in California who has been using plastic stoppers for years and someone called Eduardo Goncalves who describes himself as an independent journalist, but just happens to live in the middle of a Portuguese cork forest and has been well and truly briefed by the likes of the cork industry and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds [see previous stories in purple pages on this subject for an explanation of this arcane, nay ludicrous, link].
There were phone-in elements and the one thing I learnt was how unfamiliar the average American wine drinker is with screwcaps, or Stelvins as the Australians (their chief proponents) call them. It may be many years before they are accepted in the US, if ever. Won't someone design us an effective but more aesthetically pleasing stopper?
Here's the latest from the chairman of Australia's National Riesling Challenge:
'The 2002 National Riesling Challenge in February at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra showed the Stelvin capsule gaining popularity with Riesling makers. Judging revealed over 10 per cent "corked" wines, compared with only one Stelvin sealed wine being questioned.
Of the entries from Australia and New Zealand 21.6 per cent had Stelvin, with nearly a third (33.0 per cent) of current vintage Rieslings, 13.9 per cent of one year old and older. Interestingly all the trophy winners had Stelvin seals. During the judging 10.6 per cent of wines were classed as "corked" with second bottles being requested. This rises to 13.5 per cent if Stelvin wines are excluded. Only one Stelvin-sealed wine had a second bottle requested by judges.'
(Interestingly, he doesn't pass on anything about the wines themselves. Perhaps this is sub judice.)
Clare Valley Riesling king Jeffrey Grosset releases the 2000 vintage of his top red, Gaia, under a screwcap for the first time, with no apology whatsoever. Click here to read his eloquent views (Word document 119Kb) on his decision, and his reaction to generic ads the cork industry are now running.
Meanwhile, back in Portugal... Apcor, the body that represents 80 per cent of all cork exporters, announced a further 2.5 million euros will be spent on commissioning 'crucial, independent research with the groundbreaking objective of eradicating TCA [the mouldy-smelling compound associated with cork taint] in natural cork wine closures.'
This is good news, and should be welcomed by the wine industry however wary they may now feel about the cork industry – and it's surely a much better way to spend money than an ad campaign smearing wine producers who use anything other than cork.