The cork and screwcap usage figures in the upcoming 2011 Wine Companion are little short of extraordinary. 96.15% of all white wines were sealed with a screwcap, and 82.77% of all red wines. Flipping the coin over, 1.37% of white wines were sealed with one-piece corks, and 8.78% red wines were thus sealed.
The reasons why Australia has moved so trenchantly to screwcaps are many and various, and I have canvassed them in a number of articles I have written over the past few years on the subject. Inevitably, most of the focus is on corks which have been contaminated with trichloranisole (TCA) that imparts a mouldy aroma and taste to the wine, and to the more insidious effects of oxidation. Outright failure of the cork to hold the contents of the wine in the bottle is seldom mentioned. Preparing for a major dinner the other day, I went searching through some old Mosel Rieslings and found several bottles of 1971 Graacher Domprobst Auslese Eiswein of Dr Licht-Burgweiler. As I removed it from the rack, the cork slid gracefully into the bottle as the photographs show. The second bottle, stored immediately adjacent to the first, managed to retain its cork, and had slightly better (though not dramatically better) ullage. That bottle was duly served at the dinner, and the wine was superb.
It occurs to me that while US multi-millionaire Bill Koch is pursuing his relentless legal actions against all connected with the Thomas Jefferson bottles of 1787 Chateau Lafite, 1787 Chateau d’Yquem, and a whole lot of others, he might have a far easier time suing all and sundry for defective bottles of wine sealed with corks. The Jefferson litigation has been going for many years, and Koch has just issued a new writ against Michael Broadbent and Christie’s, the auctioneers of the wines.