Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Keeping faith with screw-caps

I have a horror of deathbed conversions, of being bullied by pain, fear or fatigue into embracing a received religion. I hope when that particular needle’s eye arrives I shall remain faithful to St Pragmatus, patron saint of the believable world.

Given my age and the growing relevance of Shakespeare’s most seductive, most sibilant line (If it be now, ‘tis not to come…) such considerations are important. Romanticism and fantasy are always at my elbow and require constant suppression. Briefly they got the upper hand at my birthday dinner last Saturday. I’d ordered a sauvignon blanc for starters and since the best stuff is brewed in New Zealand it came with a screw-cap which the restaurant owner proceeded to unscrew at the table.

I mock-complained. I told him that screw-caps are OK at home but in public one yearns for corkscrew panache. Complete nonsense, of course. Over the last ten years I’ve probably opened a dozen bottles of wine that have been corked (ie, undrinkable). None had a screw-cap. Yet because this was a jolly, sweaty social occasion I found it necessary to hark back mendaciously to one of those imaginary golden eras.

Corks are harvested from tree bark by curly-haired Mediterranean types who I’ve always suspected beat their wives. Corks can communicate a fungus to the wine resulting in a mouldy smell and taste. Screw-caps prevent this but they’re technoid. I’m ashamed I betrayed my intellect and resorted to jokiness even though jokiness was in the air. But I also worry about finding myself in a poor way, looking up and hearing a dark-suited man reading selections from The Song of Solomon. Beautiful but irrelevant. Will my belief in particle physics and the cell hold out?


Sir Hugh said...

My prophesy is that you would end up converting "the dark suited man" to atheism and then cracking a bottle of Cloudy Bay with him.

Your ponderings brought to mind the scene between Dr Rieux and the priest, Father Paneloux after the child's death in Camus' La Peste.

I'm all in favour of the screw caps.I have no wish to labelled as a conservative.

Plutarch said...

The only benefit of corks that I know of is that, by allowing the ever so slow, infiltration of oxgygen into the bottle, owing to the porous quality of the material, they allow the gentle aging of wines, of which Pauliac and other Such wines are made to be aged, and to allow the softening of harsh but essential tannins. Your sauvignon blanc would have been well suited to the screw cap, having nothing to gain from a cork, though I agree that, in a restaurant, you might expect some panache. I feel more sorry for the waiter than for you. After all, one of the important skills of his trade will have been removed by the presence of the screw cap.

Rouchswalwe said...

During the summers, I often find myself reaching for a nice Belgian Ale. They more often than not have what I call a mushroom cork. It does make a nice sound when uncorked, thereby adding to the festive experience.

Barrett Bonden said...

Sir Hugh: Mrs BB, having read the post, says any dark suited man with conversion in mind, would have to deal with her before he reached me.

Plutarch: I am of course very pro-screw-cap. But a celebratory meal is more than just a matter of nutrition and I was struck by the off-handedness of opening a bottle in this way. In fact the patron's response was to say I should switch my choice of wine from the Antipodes to France if I wanted to avoid metallic closures. Thus our second bottle of white was a chablis.

RW (Zu Schwer): Yes, I think there's a wider implication. For various reasons (but mainly festive) champagne will never be contained by a screw-cap.

marja-leena said...

Catching up after a few days away, I come here to note that a momentous occasion has occurred and I'm late adding a hearty toast to your birthday...with champagne perhaps? I hope at least that doesn't come with a metal screw cap! Here's to a great year!

Lucy said...

No no no. I meant to say, I watched a documentary on cork forests and they are the nearest thing to the Garden of Eden to be found on this planet, with Iberian lynxes and all sorts of other rare other wonders and rugged looking shepherds who I'm sure don't beat their wives...

It said that cork processing went downhill for a few years, with sloppy sterilisation and storage practices but they really have improved it now and we should all be campaigning to keep our corks. Also for labelling so we know what kind of stopper a bottle contains. Plastic corks look just as good as real ones, but aren't, and I can say from experience they have nasty habit of getting stuck on the corkscrew and requiring a nutcracker or pliers to get them off!

Cork tiles are good too.

Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Whoops, I missed this one. What we have is one of those ethics subjects that school children are required to debate. (Though not, needless to say, at the school I attended). Cork is sustainable, produced in idyllic conditions which sustain other forms of life, presents users with only minimal problems (I'll withdraw the wife-beating slur) but it can transfer its taint to wine. A green product on the whole. Screw-caps are industrial metal/plastic products with all that that entails. Synthetic corks are similarly produced by industry.

Immediately, there's a huge irony. The country that has majored on screw-caps is New Zealand, the greenest country I've ever visited and also (if it's relevant) the one with the best human rights record. This must mean one of two things: (a) screw-caps either cost winemakers the same as corks, or (b) screw-caps cost more in unit terms but it's an extra cost that can be born if it ensures that NZ has the reputation of not producing corked wines.

In fact corked wines have probably cost me £60 over the past decade, a small contribution towards the fight for greenness. Except I was forced to pay it - didn't have the choice. And on top of that the opening and tasting of a bottle of corked wine is an unpleasant experience. I think I saw the same programme Lucy refers to but I am not yet convinced that the problem has been licked.

The fact is I don't buy wine because it comes with screw-caps but I'm grateful that some of it arrives this way. Interestingly the Big Guns of Bordeaux seem to get round the problem by closing their bottles with much longer corks. I think I would willingly pay £60 to the Portugese cork farmers to sustain their way of life but I'm not sure I would campaign to force the use of screw-caps off the face of the earth. NZ winemakers (many quite small) have equally idyllic rural enterprises and have made this choice. I don't want them going bust instead.

Lucy said...

Goodness I've only just got back to this one, and was reminded of it when I had to increase my carbon footprint by lugging a bottle of corked Bordeaux - 2005 and not particularly a cheapy, so it should have been good, but frankly even the one that wasn't corked was peu etonnant - back to Hyper U. Some winemakers are clearly still cutting corners and using crappy corks. A batch of very expensive Jura/Arbois we bought from a wine rep had the most beautiful, solid real corks I've ever seen, but the wine wasn't worth it.

Agreed, NZ winemakers shouldn't have to use cork if they don't want to, and it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, greenly speaking, to ship a load of corks over there from Europe, anyway it would make the boat too high in the water.

I do hope you have comments relayed to your e-mail or the likelihood of you seeing this is very slight, and I have laboured in vain...