When the expected happens, it isn't generally news. But at two wine competitions this past weekend, the expected happened, and if not news it's at least provocative. Could it be that the world's cork producers finally have gotten on top of a fungal problem that's been tainting perhaps five percent of all bottled wine the past couple of decades?
First in Placerville on Friday, then at Plymouth on Saturday, I sat on panels at wine competitions. Our panels tasted 84 wines the first day, 68 the next. Out of all those wines, we found just two that we suspected of being killed by a tainted cork, a surprisingly low incidence. (In such instances, new samples are poured from a new bottle.)
I didn't think much of it at the time - after all, corks are supposed to protect wine, and almost invariably they were - but the competitions and their few cork problems came back to mind a short time ago as I read an online version of an article about tainted corks in today's International Herald Tribune. The upshot of the article, reported by Blomberg News, is that Portuguese and French cork producers are claiming they have come up with methods to get rid of "cork taint," thus hopefully restoring consumer confidence in corks, which have lost market share to screwcaps and other alternative closures in recent years. Our experience at the El Dorado and Amador wine judgings seems to back up their confidence. Surely, not that many winemakers in the foothills have switched to screwcaps.