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发表时间:2014/6/12 11:36:37

  In the 1990s, I went to take a look at Amorim in Portugal, the world's pre-eminent cork supplier. On the way to one of their cork processing plants, my host anxiously discussed the weather reports in Europe's wine regions. Spring frosts and unsettled weather in June, when the vines flower, can seriously reduce the number of grapes, thereby having a direct effect on the number of corks needed the following year. Wine bottle stoppers account for 70 per cent of the value of cork producers' sales. The cork industry and the wine business are symbiotically linked – which is why it is so extraordinary that there has traditionally been such a gulf between them.

  At a restaurant later that day, my host clearly had remarkably little notion of what to order from the wine list. Unlike wine glass manufacturers and designers, cork producers have rarely been seen on the international wine scene. But most extraordinarily of all, cork producers spent almost two decades up to 2000 in denial about a cork scourge that fatally tainted a substantial proportion of the wine it stoppered.

  The offending compound TCA, so strong that one teaspoon would be enough to contaminate Lake Constance, was first identified by a Swiss scientist in 1981. Hans Tanner discovered that powerful concentrations of this chlorine-related compound were present in all the undrinkably musty, mouldy-smelling wines rejected as being “corked”. In his very first paper on the subject, he suggested that this could well be due to the chlorine then widely used by cork manufacturers to bleach corks and make them look higher quality. This indeed proved to be the case but the cork industry refused to believe it until 2000 when a young Frenchman working in a private lab in Napa Valley came up with a reliable way of measuring TCA levels in corks, thereby proving that at least 30 per cent of those being shipped to American wine producers then were tainted with perceptible levels of TCA.

  George M Taber, author of The Judgment of Paris, the highly regarded book about the famous 1976 France v California taste-off, has written the tale of the wine-stopper battle in the well-paced To Cork or Not To Cork . There are none of the “he gazed out at a wintry sky” embellishments that can blight these supposedly non-fictional accounts, just the surprisingly gripping story of the conflict between increasingly frustrated wine producers, an obdurate cork industry, some truly obfuscating public relations activity and supporters of various alternative bottle stoppers.

  Such is the intensity of the holy war between screwcap and natural cork factions that, as Taber chronicles, it precipitated the resignation this year of the British wine trade weekly's editor, has led to absurd claims that the rise of screwcaps was a threat to Iberian eagles, which nest in cork forests, and has even provoked an intervention from Prince Charles arguing the case for natural corks on environmental grounds, although the prince, as Taber points out, “may never personally have pulled a cork in his life”.

  The book is admirably thorough, chronicling the dotcom-like rise of the plastic SupremeCorq (British supermarkets played a key role) and the (largely French) screwcap's progress to its current position over the bottlenecks of 95 per cent of all New Zealand wine and 50 per cent of all Australian wine. The screwcap has yet to make a serious impact in France and hardly any in the US, where plastic corks are much more popular, even though the screwcap was invented in New York in the late 19th century.

  When faced with what to wine producers and wine drinkers seemed irrefutable evidence of an increase in TCA-tainted wines from the 1980s, the cork industry argued that the fault lay not with the corks themselves but with wine producers who had mistreated their corks. It is certainly true that cork was not the culprit for all TCA infections. Bordeaux wine researcher Pascal Chatonnet, profiled on these pages some years ago, specialises in the analysis of TCA and similar winery infections that come not from corks but from the likes of the chlorine once routinely used to sterilise winery equipment and from a particular wood treatment. His company Excell has made a speciality of discreet analysis and disinfection in properties such as, most famously, Ch?teaux Ducru-Beaucaillou, Canon and Latour, each of whose wine cellars has been completely reconstructed since troubles in the 1980s. Taber suggests why such problems were initially overlooked by the wine producers themselves. “TCA causes anosmia, the temporary lack of smell,” he writes. Because of this, some producers did not even know they had a problem with it.

  Even as recently as 2000, the cork producers still did not understand the depth of the wine industry's rage at the extent to which cork problems were blighting their wines' reputation. Arguably even worse than out-and-out TCA contamination is low level TCA taint, which simply robs a wine of its fruit and makes the consumer blame the wine not the cork – one of the few aspects of the story underplayed by Taber.

  In February 2000, Antonio Amorim flew out to Australia with the top-flight scientist Miguel Cabral he had at last hired to try to sort out the TCA problem. They had a meeting with six of the harshest critics of corks from the wine industry (the Australians had long suspected they had been fobbed off with the poorest quality corks because they were so far away from Portugal). Over dinner in an Adelaide hotel, the Portuguese visitors had to withstand more than four and half hours of sustained attack, relieved only when Amorim took a sip of the local water and was able to point out that it was contaminated by TCA too. On the way out of the restaurant, Taber relates, Amorim whispered to Cabral: “I don't ever want to go through a meeting like that again in my life. I don't care what it costs – just fix this problem!”

  We have a lot to thank the Australians, and Eric Hervé who developed the TCA-testing procedure, for. Since then, the old habit of drying cork bark on the damp ground, encouraging all sorts of moulds, has been abandoned by the bigger cork producers, and Cabral has come up with a way of using steam to reduce dramatically TCA levels in Amorim's corks. The cork industry is busy inventing new stoppers such as Diam, the successor of the ill-fated Altec, a fusion of organic cork particles and synthetic polymers, that went from zero to sales of 2.5bn stoppers in less than five years (it developed taint in the end too, thanks to the glue used to bind its cork granules). Today, of the 20bn wine bottle stoppers used each year, 16bn are natural cork in some form, 2.5bn are the plastic corks that are being improved but still don't offer a perfect seal over long periods, and just 1.5bn, but growing fastest, are the hotly defended screwcaps.

  Taber covers the screwcap-related problems of reduction (bad egg smells) associated with screwcap liners and the possible downside of the copper fining used to avoid the smells. He also mentions the screwcaps' less robust qualities during transport. While utterly fair in his treatment of the bottle stopper options, he, like me, feels a tendresse for natural cork but is delighted that it no longer enjoys an ill-deserved monopoly on keeping the air out and the wine in.

  ‘To Cork or Not To Cork', Scribner $26

  上世纪90年代,我曾去葡萄牙参观全球卓著的软木塞供应商阿莫里姆(Amorim)。在前往其旗下一家软木塞加工厂的途中,我的东道主颇为担忧地讨论起欧洲葡萄酒产地的气候 。春日的霜冻和6月份葡萄藤开花时善变的天气,可能导致葡萄产量明显减少,从而对来年软木塞的需求量造成直接影响。葡萄酒瓶塞的销售额占软木塞制造商总销售额的70%。软木塞产业和葡萄酒业务有着共生共存的关系,这也是二者之间素来巨大的鸿沟非同寻常的原因所在。



  软木塞中的化学成分氯苯甲醚(TCA)气味非常强烈,一茶匙的TCA就足以污染整个康士坦茨湖。这种恼人的成分是在1981年被一位瑞士科学家发现的。汉斯•坦纳(Hans Tanner)发现,在所有让人无法饮用、闻起来有一股霉味的葡萄酒里,这种含氯成分的浓度都非常大,人们斥之为“带木塞气味”。在其第一篇就该问题发表的论文中,坦纳提出,这很可能是因为当时软木塞制造商普遍使用氯来漂白软木塞,目的是为了让它们看起来质量更好。尽管事实如此,但软木塞产业一直拒绝相信这点,直到2000年,一位在纳帕谷私人实验室工作的法国年轻人想出了一种可靠的方法,来测量软木塞中的TCA含量,从而证明了当时运往美国葡萄酒生产商至少30%的软木塞受到含量可察觉的TCA污染。


  乔治•M•泰伯(George M Taber)是《1976巴黎品酒会》(The Judgment of Paris)的作者,这本获得了高度评价的著作描写了1976年那场法国与加州之间著名的葡萄酒品酒对决。他还撰写了有关葡萄酒瓶塞之战的故事,书名为《要不要软木塞?》(To Cork or Not To Cork)。该书没有运用诸如“他向外凝视着冬日天空”那些可以为非虚构场景描述添色的修饰手法,只有出乎意料引人入胜的故事,描写了挫败感日益加深的葡萄酒生产商之间的冲突、顽固的软木塞产业、一些确实令人不解的公关活动,以及不同材质瓶塞的支持者。

  金属螺纹瓶盖与天然软木塞之间的战争颇为激烈,正如坦纳的记载所显示,这不仅促使今年某家英国葡萄酒贸易周刊的主编辞职,还导致民间流传一些荒谬的说法,螺纹瓶盖的发展对栖息在软木森林的伊比利亚鹰构成威胁,甚至还有查尔斯王子(Prince Charles)出面干预,表示出于环保理由提倡使用天然软木塞,不过正如坦纳指出的那样,查尔斯王子“一生中可能从来没有亲自拔过软木塞”。



  在葡萄酒生产商和饮用者看来,80年代受TCA污染的葡萄酒数量有所增加有着不可辩驳的证据,面对这种情况,软木塞产业辩称,错不在软木塞本身,而在于葡萄酒生产商没有正确地使用他们的软木塞。软木塞不是造成一切TCA污染的罪魁祸首,这确实不假。几年前曾上过这些报道的波尔多葡萄酒研究者帕斯卡•沙托内(Pascal Chatonnet)致力于TCA及葡萄酒类似污染的分析。类似污染不是来自软木塞,而是源于用以给葡萄酒生产设备进行常规消毒的氯等物质,以及特殊的木材处理方式。他的公司Excell曾针对宝嘉龙酒庄(Ducru-Beaucaillou)、卡侬堡(Canon)和拉图酒庄(Latour)等最著名酒庄制作了一期专题,进行了审慎的分析。自80年代出现问题以来,这些酒庄已彻底对酒窖进行了改建。泰伯解释了葡萄酒生产商最初忽视这些问题的原因。他写道:“TCA会导致人暂时丧失嗅觉”。由于这个原因,一些生产商甚至不知道他们的葡萄酒出现了问题。


  2000年2月,安东尼奥•阿莫里姆(Antonio Amorim)好不容易请到最权威的科学家米格尔•卡布拉尔(Miguel Cabral)帮助解决TCA问题,他们一同飞到了澳大利亚。他们会见了6位对软木塞批评最猛烈的葡萄酒业内人士(长期以来,由于距离葡萄牙如此遥远,澳大利亚人一直怀疑葡萄牙方面用质量最差的软木塞来糊弄他们)。在阿德莱德一家酒店进餐时,这两位葡萄牙客人不得不抵挡超过四个半小时的持续抨击,直到阿莫里姆尝了口当地的水,并指出这水也受到TCA的污染时,才把他们从抨击中解救了出来。泰伯叙述道,在从餐馆出来的途中,阿莫里姆悄悄跟卡布拉尔说:“这辈子,我再也不想经历这样的会议了。我不在乎花多少钱,只要解决这个问题就行!”

  为此,我们非常应该感谢澳大利亚人,以及发明TCA检测程序的埃里克•埃尔韦(Eric Hervé)。自那以后,较大型的软木生产商放弃了在潮湿地面上晒干软木树皮的旧习(这可能是各类霉菌的诱因),而卡布拉尔想出了使用水蒸汽来大幅减少阿莫里姆软木塞中TCA含量的办法。如今,软木塞行业正忙于发明新的瓶塞,例如Diam。其前身是命运多舛的有机软木颗粒合成聚合物Altec,在不足5年的时间内,其瓶塞的销售量从零上升至25亿(由于使用胶来粘合其软木颗粒,这种材料最后也造成污染)。目前,在每年使用的200亿个葡萄酒瓶塞中,有160亿是某种形式的天然软木塞,25亿是经过改良的塑料软木塞(但时间一长其密封性仍不够完美),而得到人们极力维护的金属螺纹瓶盖只有15亿,但其数量正迅速增长。






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