For the past few hundred years, wine bottles have been sealed with a spongy plug punched from the cork bark of a special oak tree grown around the Mediterranean basin, and everyone was pretty much satisfied with that arrangement.
Then, with increased worldwide demand for wine in the 1980’s, we started noticing that more wines we opened had the musty smell of a time capsule from our grandparents’ attic. We had sniffed it before – cork taint, TCA or trichloroanisole – but now it was more frequent, ruining even our most expensive wines. We said, “We’re not going to take it anymore!”
The race was on for a better closure – screw caps, synthetic corks, composite corks, glass stoppers and simply better-selected, steam-cleaned punched natural corks. But even steaming corks didn’t eliminate all TCA, and substitute closures didn’t have all the advantages of corks, such as air permeability, elasticity and handsome looks.
DIAM Bouchage, one of the companies that make composite natural corks, thinks it has the TCA problem licked and has been working the past half-dozen years to better punched corks on physical properties as well.
DIAM invited me to Spain and France to take a look – and a smell.