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English still & fruit wines

on January 18, 2011

We’re just about to start another bottling run, putting the last of the still wines from the 2010 harvest into bottle, and we all get dragged into the debate about cork versus fake versus screw caps. Again!

It is undeniable that cork taint (responsible for the pronouncement all winemaker’s dread, that a wine is “corked”) is a problem, though a diminishing one. Cork producers have invested much time, effort and research into producing corks free of nasty bacteria.

Conversely, producers of plastic corks have invested equally in finding something that looks as close to the real thing as it can, though the ‘feel’ is still a way off. However, there is absolutely, 100% guaranteed, no risk of the wine being corked.

Screw caps have this benefit too, with the added advantage that if you find yourself in the unthinkable position of being corkscrew-less (a frightening thought, if ever there was one), at least all is not lost. And you can replace it effortlessly if you can’t manage a whole bottle in one sitting (not a common scenario, though, as far as I’m aware).

The majority of the arguments come down in favour of cork, both here in the microcosm of our vineyard, and in the wider wine-consuming world:-

It’s better for enabling the wines to breath (though ours are mostly drunk young, so don’t need to lie down in a darkened room before they’re drunk – that’s left to you, dear customer, once you’ve consumed them!!!).

It’s better for the environment, saving all that lives in and around the Quercus suber, the Portuguese cousin of the English oak tree from whose bark cork is made.

For me though, it’s a question of engaging the 5 senses. The more senses that are involved in the experience, the more complete, and the greater the pleasure derived from, that experience.

Whichever type of closure a bottle has, the wine-drinking experience will work the senses of sight, smell, taste and touch (the bottle; the label – if you’re that way inclined; the glass – cradling the bowl in your hand, caressing the rim, stroking the stem; and the wine itself, with the its individual ‘mouth feel’).

Only one gives the full set though, and that has to be the deciding factor. Screw caps are as good (bad) as silent. Plastic corks creak grumpily as they’re forced from the neck of the bottle. Just as you used to “only get an ooo with Typhoo”, you only get the satisfaction of a resonating “pop” with natural cork.

Satisfying of itself, it is more than that. The ‘pop’ is the starting gun for the other 4 senses, setting off the taste buds, making the nose want to get a sniff of the action, indicating we should look to see the wine being poured.

Thirsty work, this. Now, where did I put my corkscrew…?

Mark HuntleyEnglish still & fruit wines