548 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 4 JULY 2020
is about the positive nature of closure in the wine world. I last wrote about
this subject almost two decades ago,2 and much has changed since.
Wineries, especially the smaller ones, have keenly felt the economic
slowdown (and in some cases shutdown) resulting from COVID-19 these
past several months. For most, their business model relies on customers
coming to visit, to taste and to buy, or for wine merchants to buy and resell.
Some had online wine clubs or online sales in place before the pandemic
hit, but for most it was primarily the customer at the winery door. With
those traditional avenues for sales shut down or restricted, and everyone
now moving to sell online, many have been scrambling to find new markets.
My winemaker friend, who has tanks full of wine ready to bottle and
sell, told me of how he is changing some of his business focus. Through his
winery retail contacts, he has learned of a burgeoning market for high-end
“bag-in-a-box” wine. While those cardboard box and plastic bladder combinations
have historically received a bad rap due to their barely palatable
contents, the packaging itself has many advantages for preserving wine. In
fact, in some circumstances, it is better than a bottle.
So for once, rather than discussing the contents, this article is about what
surrounds the wine and, in particular, what sits atop it, from differing types
of cork, to screw cap, to “pop top” crown cap. There are now a number of
ways in which wine is packaged, each with its strengths and weaknesses.
While the traditional “go to” over recent centuries was a cork, that has
changed in the past couple of decades for a number of reasons.
The main reason is “corked” wine. But, you say, isn’t all fine wine corked?
Not in this context. Let me explain.
“Corked wine” = bad wine. And I do not mean this in the sense that it
will floor you with its alcoholic content, or that it is some ersatz U.S.
“Hearty Burgundy” of decades past. The problem arises from the cork itself.
A cork has been the primary choice for sealing wine since bottles were first
generally used about 200 years ago. (Before that, wine was kept in wooden
casks sealed with wax and rags, and in Greco-Roman times in lead-glazed
vessels. Some say the resulting lead-induced madness among the population
tumbled their empires.) But while corks and glass bottles were a huge
improvement on their forebearers, a certain percentage of bottles sealed
with corks have always spoiled (gone “off”, tasting of mould, rotting wood
chips, mud, vinegar and other nasty things). Depending on how “off” it
goes, the spoilage is sometimes very noticeable, while other times you may
just think the wine drinkable but not good. For a winery basing its reputation
on quality, either is a disaster.
Wines closed with corks have, since bottles were first closed using them,
had some two to five per cent go “off”. Cork producers (primarily from Por-