One of the world's most influential wine writers has come down firmly in favour of synthetic closures – just as the cork industry struggles to retain the trust of the UK market.

UK wine guru Hugh Johnson (pictured) has urged readers of his latest Pocket Wine Guide to ‘buy your daily wines from suppliers with the courage to use modern stoppers’.

In the introduction to the 2003 edition of the annual guide, which has sold seven million copies and is in its 26th year of publication, Johnson cites the accepted industry view that between five and ten per cent of all bottles are ‘corked’ – tainted with TCA.

He writes, ‘Is the romance of wine worth a one in ten chance of a bad bottle? You decide.’

His comments come at a time when the cork industry is struggling to retain customers and fighting a battle against the rise in synthetic closures. APCOR, the Portuguese cork association, runs major campaigns targeting the UK, USA and Australian markets in an effort to stem the fall in cork usage.

The UK is one of the most important markets for imported wine, with retailers playing a key role in closure selection. Reports suggest that synthetic closures now account for up to 20 per cent of the closures entering the UK.

In response to Johnson’s comments APCOR’s international campaign director Francisco de Brito Evangelista says cork manufacturers are trying to deliver a better-quality product, and he highlights cork’s advantages, for example ease of storage and transportation. ‘Cork is better at coping with temperature fluctuations and has the benefit of superior flexibility. Wine bottles are not perfect and cork provides a better fit to avoid oxidation.’

Johnson told decanter.com, ‘Corks may play a part in the slow maturation of wines such as vintage port, but for wines whose object is to be fresh and fruity then let’s have screw caps.’

He said reliance on cork closures is based more on nostalgia than practicality, but ‘the more we see them being used the more likely it is that designers will start to work on them.’

Written by Josie Butchart20 November 2002