Book Review: “To Cork or Not to Cork” by George Taber

In his book “To Cork or Not to Cork,” author George Taber devotes 265 pages to bottle closures, a fact in itself that demonstrates at least one universal truth: that wine aficionados are an odd, yet passionate lot. After all, who else would read an entire book on this particular subject? Even wine guru Karen MacNeil, who contributed the foreward to the text, was at first a bit skeptical, and for very good reason. An entire book dedicated to the cork-versus-screw cap debate? Honestly, I sometimes feel that wine aficionados must be the Trekkies of the culinary world.

Admittedly, I had been looking forward to reading “To Cork or Not to Cork” ever since I learned of its release last year (which says an awful lot about me, I suppose). Taber’s previous work, 2006′s “The Judgment of Paris,” was a terrific book, and I felt that the cork-versus-screw cap debate had rarely ever been addressed in depth and without bias. I approached “To Cork or Not to Cork” with the hope that I would be able to discern, once and for all, which side was correct, and which statistics I should ultimately believe. Of course, nothing that has been debated for this long can ever be that simple.

The debate, being as heated as ever, could easily continue to play out for decades; but even though Taber does not provide his readers with all of the answers, he certainly provides every single bit of evidence along the way. And while casual wine drinkers may not particularly care about the difference between a “technical cork” and an “agglomerated cork” (or, for that matter, an “extruded cork” and a “molded cork”), the first chapter of the book does provide a wonderfully concise overview of traditional cork production and its long-standing connection to fine wine.

I would be delusional, however, if I claimed that the remainder of “To Cork or Not to Cork” is geared towards anyone but the true wine aficionado (in which case, Taber’s book is most definitely required reading). I must admit that this situation is a bit ironic in some ways, since even the most novice wine drinkers can easily appreciate some of the main issues behind the cork-versus-screw cap debate. In particular, one major angle of the controversy — tradition versus innovation — is extremely simple to grasp, regardless of one’s level of wine knowledge.

But even though some of these core cultural issues are certainly approachable, the actual science behind this debate remains far too heady for the casual observer. Who, besides the most devoted wine drinkers, really cares about the villainous chemical compound TCA (otherwise known as “cork taint,” and also at the heart of the controversy)? To take this question even one step further, who besides an experienced wine drinker can readily identify TCA? Quite frankly, “To Cork or Not to Cork” is a book aimed only at those of us who are already too far gone, Spock ears and all.

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