Pull the cork on corks
Most consumers don’t know it, but the Portuguese cork industry is one of the most ferociously defensive businesses around. For decades, they’ve had this massive P.R. army extolling the virtues of cork, warding off every conceivable attack. Even before there were viable alternatives to cork, their minions were assuring us that no effort was being spared in the cork forests to keep animals from peeing on the bark. As for cork’s TCA rate, well, it was miniscule, and getting lower all the time. That this did not accord with the experience of critics, including me, who were getting taint rates of about 5%, was irrelevant. The cork industry wanted everyone to know that they were on the side of the angels.
Then alternative closures started appearing, and the cork industry had to re-double its efforts to stay relevant. About that time, I started getting regular invitations to visit Portugal, courtesy of the cork manufacturers. Hell, every writer/critic did. (For the record, I’ve never accepted a junket.) I guess the idea was that a free vacation in Europe would warm our hearts and make us write nice things about cork.
Now, the industry has a new argument: It’s greener than any other closure! That’s according to this study that “clearly shows the environmental superiority of natural cork stoppers over alternative wine closures,” in its own words. Specifically, the study looked at the carbon footprint created over a 100-year life cycle of cork stoppers, compared to plastic stoppers and screwtops. It found that corks have 1/9th the CO2 emissions of plastic stoppers, and 1/24th the CO2 emissions of screwtops. The study was paid for by Corticeira Amorim, the world’s biggest wine cork company.
Look, when you’re reduced to hyping that over a 100-year cycle, corks emit less CO2 than other types of closures, you’ve basically admitted you’ve lost the argument. That’s cork’s claim to fame? I don’t think that dog will hunt. The cork people are going to have to come up with better rationales than that. I mean, we’re all green nowadays, but that doesn’t mean that everything we buy and use has to be calculated to the Nth degree to figure out its carbon footprint. That’s a kind of green fascism we ought to avoid.
There are lots of reasons to move beyond cork. Here are two: screwtops are less intimidating to millions of people who don’t want to struggle with a device just in order to open a bottle. And a screwtop will never taint a wine with TCA. Cork is an anachronism — a seventeenth century artifact like the spinning wheel. We don’t need it anymore.
But we do need bling, don’t we?
On the other hand, here’s the world famous coutourier, Karl Lagerfeld, telling the New York Times: “This whole [economic] crisis is like a big spring housecleaning — both moral and physical… Bling is over. Red carpetry covered with rhinestones is out. I call it ‘the new modesty.’ ”
No bling for Karl