“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





09 October 2008

Cork Wars: Australian Putsch Bottles Up Portuguese Rear

by PHILIP WHITE - This story appeared in The Independent Weekly as "Cork Comes Unscrewed" on 3 October 08

If I suddenly disappear, it’ll probably be the Portuguese. Silly buggers haven’t learnt much in our thirty years of warfare.

When José Lopez, of the Portuguese company, Amorim, opened fire on my recent spray against cork on The Independent Weekly website his first shot was a complete fizzer. Amorim’s the world’s biggest rubber and cork trader. José suggested I’m on the take from the screwcappers. Read The Olympics Were Corked in the September archive below and you’ll get the whole grim PR disaster.

The screwcappers have no reason to pay me. I support them for free. Screwcaps are a zillion percent better for keeping wine fresh, and my responsibility is to my readers, who deserve the best. So I hate cork. I hate its trichloranisole taint, which arises when the chlorine used to beautify and sanitise it reacts with microbes living naturally within it. And I dislike the way cork lets wine oxidise.

I’ve been this dangerously subversive since Coca Cola abandoned the cork wafers beneath its crown seals in the ’sixties. The pharmaceutical business soon followed suit. Corky soft drink and cough medicine may still be available in Portugal, but we’ve had none here for thirty years. Although Adelaideans smell TCA most times they take a shower, thanks probably to chlorination.

There was more incoming. Mai Nygaard lobbed a big grenade, but forgot to say she’s Business Development Manager of Normacorc. Then I thought they’d subbed Carlos the Jackal to wipe me, but it turned out to be Carlos de Jesus, José’s boss at Amorim, with a glib disclaimer. Perhaps he’d read up a touch of Australian libel law, or remembered that Amorim had for years employed Brian Croser (deputy chancellor of the University of Adelaide, which runs our wine education and research) and Len Evans, who was chairman of Croser’s Petaluma. Both were doyens of Australia’s wine show system for decades.

Some synthetic plugs are improvements on cork, but they still don’t get it. I want to carry a corkscrew/bottle opener everywhere about as much as a friggin crank handle. Even the Portuguese sardine industry worked out decades ago that they couldn’t expect fish lovers to carry a special tool around just to get the fish out of the tin. Aussie brewers were next to abandon the tool kit.

If you’re a blingster who just loves something clunky to jangle on your keys, I reckon the Diam compound cork is the best excuse to carry a mechanical tugger. In many thousands, I’ve found only a few Diams to be duds, and this was mainly due to irregularities in the bottle neck. Much stiffer than corks, Diam plugs sit tight, but don’t swell as well to fill depressions or seams within imperfect necks, so wine gets out and oxygen gets in. And they’re so hard to get off the worm, somebody should invent another gadget to help with that.

Of course TCA comes from sources other than corks. Pat Conlon’s new trams smelled corked when they were new, probably something to do with the aircon filters being sanitised with chlorine. The international entry lounge at Darwin airport was corked for thirty years, probably due to well-intentioned cleaners ensuring there was no tropical mould in the carpet. I always thought of Portugal when I came through. Some cheese is corky, too. Chlorine is used to sanitise cheese factories, and the French wrapping used to package white rind cheese is often bleached with chlorine compounds.

Cork lovers who preach about natural always being better should abandon the chlorine completely and leave the poor old cork trees alone. Respect the sacred ecology of the natural microfauna in the bark. Get straight back to the old wine skin. Pig is best. You seal ’em with a leather thong. I don’t know whether St. Matthew was a practising Jew, but remember his advice from God’s Word: “Neither do men put new wine into old skins: else the skins break, and the wine runneth out”.

Dislike overt sulphur? Anyone who seals a wine high in sulphur beneath screwcaps will soon learn they’re so effective they preserve faults as well as attributes. Want cork because you desire the sort of oxidation cork permits? Winemakers who seek oxidation should permit a little oxygen in the headspace below whichever closure they choose. But for me, polymerisation without oxidation, please. Screw it!

When me old China suggested Australia's "a proven failure as a wine producer, producing a soda kind of drink", I almost sympathised. Like China, we still use table grapes for wine production. And as for China being "the milenar culture which privileges natural material for the food product whose consumption is developing most in the last years is indeed a deep, intelligent one"? Mate, pull out the cork and have a nice big glass of milk, there's a dear.


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