Does cork still float to the top?

Aesthetically and ecologically cork deserves to win, but accountants look only at the bottom line

ANDREW J. LINN

The war between cork and other forms of bottle closure has been waging for decades.

Aesthetically and ecologically cork deserves to win, but accountants look only at the bottom line. For centuries there has been no alternative to cork, a relatively expensive solution, but now there are many types of 'cork' made from sugar cane and artificial corks.

The oak forests of southern Portugal would have no reason to be there were it not for the cork harvest and the wildlife; the continued use of cork is vital to a large section of the population.

The area provides half of the world's supply, and while expensive wines will always have genuine corks, metal closures and artificial cork are fast gaining ground.

Shady tactics are commonplace and may be why the Portuguese Cork Association claims that cork-sealed wine increases in price twice as fast as wine stoppered with cheaper alternatives.

The devious message is that if a bodega wants its wines to increase in price it should use cork.

As more wineries use non-cork closures, cork-use will shrink until it only embraces the highest-priced wines. It is inevitable that wines with cork closures will be the more expensive.

The Portuguese are trying to con us into thinking that, like a man buying an expensive suit because it is silk-lined, all silk must be good, while the fact is that expensive suits are mostly silk-lined - and good wines mostly have real corks.