by Fred McMillin
for November 3, 1999


When The Bite Is Worse Than The Bark



Corks are made from the bark of Quercus suber, a species of oak grown chiefly in Portugal and Spain.

In spite of the industry's best efforts, some five percent of corks have a bite worse than their bark. That is, they give the wine a smell and taste of wet cardboard or worse. Such bottles are called "corked."

Jochen Michalski

Jochen Michalski inspecting his cork bark purchases in Portugal.

The Rest of the Story

I knew the wine would be among the best of the tasting. The year before it was fermented, Wine Week had proclaimed the winery to be "The story of the Napa Valley in 1995." One of the two winemakers had won four awards as Winemaker of the Year. The grapes all came from a prime, single vineyard, justifying the words on the label, Grand Reserve.

How well did it do? It BOMBED!...too low to even be mentioned in my Picks column. What was the trouble? EVERY PANELIST wrote that the wine was CORKED.

When the winery heard about it, they rushed me a replacement. I quietly slipped it into another tasting...the score: a resounding 90! No wet cardboard this time. This is the wine.

1996 Villa Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Zinfandel
Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley
The Grape Guru's—Winemaker: Mike McGrath;
Director of Enology: Jed Steele
Winery—Phone (707) 963-9100, FAX (707) 963-7840; for more on the Villa, see WineDay 5-24-99 "Anatomy of a Cab".
Price—$20 range

Postscript—Cork Stopper Milestones

The first cork wine jar stoppers are created by the Etruscans, living in what will become Chianti country near Florence.

Two millennia later two Spanish monks visit Dom Perignon in the Champagne district. He noticed their water bottles are stoppered with CORKS. Soon CORKS were a vital part of his creation of his first sparkling wine.

In 1981 Breman-born Jochen Michalski (pictured) founded Cork Supply USA in his S.F. Bay Area home and the first year sold over five million stoppers. Two years ago he sold cork number one BILLION. The photo shows him inspecting his cork bark purchases in Portugal.

PERTINENT POINT—This year he is spearheading a $500,000, two-year project with the Portuguese government. Its goal? "ELIMINATE OFF AROMAS" from that small percentage of corks that still create problems. Phone (800) 961-2000, FAX (707) 746-7471.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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