As the sole reporter at the now-legendary Paris Tasting of 1976, wine journalist George M. Taber broke the news that unknown California wines had trounced some of France’s proudest selections. When word spread, French winemakers lost their psychological grip on oenophiles everywhere. In the ensuing decades of change in the wine world, Taber’s enthusiasm for that most revered of beverages has only grown. His new book, To Cork or Not to Cork: The Billion-Dollar Battle for the Bottle, chronicles the development of wine bottle closures-from simple natural cork to elegant glass stopper-and today’s bitter struggle between competing technologies.
Though the casual wine drinker pays little attention to what’s keeping the stuff in the bottle, the issue looms large over the industry. “It’s a huge debate,” said Taber over the phone from his home in Rhode Island. “It’s probably the most controversial issue, like a war of religion. People have strongly held positions; they think they’re right, and the rest of the world is wrong.” No one cap, he argued, fits all wines. “Right now, there is no prefect closure. Corks have their downside, as do screwcaps. No evidence shows that a perfect, taint-free cork can be made. The screwcap people have oversold the benefits, insisting it’s perfect for every wine.”
Taber advocates for research and development toward an improved closure as well as the propagation of existing knowledge. “It’s not purely a research problem,” he commented. “It’s also an education problem of making consumers more aware of the variety of problems that can affect wine: barrel problems, cellar problems, all kinds. So many people get a funny taste and assume it’s the cork’s fault. It may not be the cork. The wine industry has to do a better job of educating the consumer.”
Taber will discuss To Cork or Not to Cork and autograph copies at the downtown Borders on Monday, October 29, at 7 p.m. Following that appearance, there will be a tasting at the Wine Cask (813 Anacapa St.) offering multiple wines from around the world in bottles with various closures. See winecask.com for more information.