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Byline: with Lawrence McCoy

FOR some people the pop of the cork is part and parcel of the pleasure of wine drinking. But the dreaded cork taint that is estimated to affect something like five per cent of wine bottles is persuading more and more producers to find alternatives.

So the idea that only plonk comes in screw- top bottles is on the way out.

In fact,nowadays a screw- top is probably more likely to point to a producer who cares enough about his wine to make an extra effort to avoid the potential of cork taint.

Estimates vary widely as to how many bottles are ``corked'' and it's not just that tell- tale musty smell which can be the result. The taste of wine can also be more or less subtly deadened or flattened by cork taint.

The culprit is a chemical compound 2,4,6 trichloroanisole (or TCA), which is believed to be present in miniscule amounts in the cork itself.

The cork industry reckons about 1.2pcof corks are affected. Steve Pannell,chief winemaker at the giant Australian BRL Hardy group thinks it's closer to eight per cent.

In the recent UK International Wine Challenge,4.6pcof wines were found to be spoiled by bad corks.

Whatever the figure,it is too high, soit's no surprise that producers want to find a solution. Leading the way are Australians and New Zealanders who have already begun to seal more of their wines with screw-caps -the 2003 vintage of the iconic Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc for instance, which is clear evidence that makers have faith in screw-caps even for their premium wines.

So far it's mainly white wines but reds will surely follow, especially since it has been shown that wines made to age do not need a cork to allow tiny amounts of air into the bottle.

Michael Brajkovich,of the prestige New Zealand Kumeu River winery, sums it all upon the forum web site www.corkwatch.com:``It is definitively disproved by scientific research that wine corks breath.

When a cork seal is working correctly there is no passage of oxygen into the bottle.

``We have seen TCA rates in cork batches that vary from 2-4pc to well over 30pc. In some batches 20 to 50pc of the corks will also give a dulling effect to the wine.

``To us, the romance of wine arises from the sensual pleasure of its aromas,flavours and textures, not from the smelly piece of bark inserted in the bottle neck.''
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 8, 2003
Words:421
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