Tom's blog

Corks back in vogue

The cork industry has defied all odds in making a comeback as the preferred choice of bottle stoppers.

Sales of the tree bark plummeted in the 2000 decade as a result of a startling increase in corks tainted by trichloroanisole, more commonly known as TCA.  Several critics and producers predicted that cork will disappear from the marketplace as composite cork, screw-tops and other closures became a safer choice.

But that didn't happen. The cork industry -- based mostly in Portugual -- cleaned up its act and developed a more stable, reliable product. They also churned up the marketing.  As a result, export sales rose 30 percent between 2009 -- the low point -- and 2016, according to the Portuguese Cork Association.

I was thinking about these numbers the other day when I had to return a bottle of wine at a restaurant because it was badly corked.  It was the first time in years I detected a TCA-tainted wine in a restaurant. Even at home, where I open at least a case of wine a week, I have encountered a corked wine maybe once or twice in the last year. 

I doubt that New Zealand producers will switch from screw tops, but there are probably a number of U.S.  producers who will stick with cork for now. Consumers still like the romanticism of uncorking a wine for dinner.