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The New York Times> has a piece this morning addressing the battle between cork and screw tops in the wine industry.

“Given the maddeningly random problem of wines contaminated by cork taint, it’s easy for consumers to wonder why the entire industry has not moved to screw caps,” the Times writes. “Sure, some people will always prefer corks for aesthetic reasons and because of tradition. The ceremonial flair of uncorking a bottle has yet to find its counterpart in an unscrewing. And while it’s not yet clear how age-worthy wines will evolve under screw caps, the question remains: Why would anybody want to risk corked wines?”

There is at least one good reason, the Times suggests – a little process called “reduction”:

“Winemakers battle endlessly with air. In general, they want to protect their wine from too much exposure to air in order to prevent oxidation. That is why wine bottles are filled nearly to the brim and then sealed.

Yet a little bit of air can be a good thing. A chardonnay, for example, can be protected from air by covering it with inert gas and aging it briefly in steel tanks. When bottled, it will mostly likely be a straightforward wine, juicy, fruity and crisp. But chardonnay aged in oak barrels will be exposed to the minute amount of air that penetrates the wood, which can add pleasing elements of complexity. It’s all a matter of the winemaker’s goals and the quality of the grapes.

“Depriving a wine completely of air can produce the opposite of oxidation, reduction. Broadly speaking, reduction is a kind of catchall term for the bad things that can happen in what scientists call anaerobic conditions. Those bad things involve sulfur chemistry and can ultimately include aromas of burned rubber, cabbage and rotten eggs.

“Yes, screw caps, the good guys in the battle against corked wines, have been implicated in reduction problems.”
KC's View:
Last week, the news said that cork actually is a more “green” alternative to screw tops. And now, screw tops apparently are responsible for their own kind of taint.

The news gets better and better – or at least more encouraging - for those of us who are holding out for cork as a symbol of that which makes wine special.