Wine Corks Fight Off Alternative Stoppers

Each wine cork tells a story: A weekend in Maine, a silly party, a proposal served up with Champagne. But nothing ruins a night like wine tainted by rotten cork. Some 300 million bottles a year — about 2% of all wine — are “corked,” leading the industry to experiment with alternatives.

Synthetic corks can require Herculean strength to get out. Easy-opening screw caps — about 10% of the market — have all the romance of parking-lot drinking. Glass stoppers “will not give you taint,” says Kyle Rossler, a VP at Encore Glass, which distributes Vino-Seal glass closures. But glass is pricey, and it’s “popular in Germany,” making it the David Hasselhoff of wine closures.

“Anyone who’s gone away from cork wants to come back,” says Erin Grace, director of imports at the distributor Winebow. Cork makers are fighting taint with improved manufacturing processes, and wooing consumers by promoting cork as sustainable, complete with a recycling initiative with Whole Foods.

Still, dreamers like Tim Keller persist. He has created VinPerfect, a screw cap that regulates air into the bottle. VinPerfect-sealed wines should debut in 2011, and Keller hopes to obliterate cork in three years. On the off chance he prevails, better hold on to those keepsakes.

Photograph by Dan Saelinger