When tasting wines for the March issue of the Review of Washington Wines, I noticed that over half the bottles I opened had composite corks which are resistant to being "corked," tainted with trichloranisole (called TCA for short) which produce an aroma akin to wet cardboard. It seems that more and more wine producers are going to alternative bottle closures. 

Wine industry sources have predicted that the trend away from natural cork will continue, except for the highest end wine whose corks are of the highest quality and individually inspected. Within a few years, it is expected that less than 20% of wines will have natural corks. 

What are composite corks? They are processed products made from ground cork that has been washed and CO2 treated and then glued together and molded into bottle closures. DIAM, a French company, is the main producer of these products. There is another product, Nomacorc, which is derived from sugarcane biopolymers, but I found these used mainly for French wines. 

So far, Washington wineries that I have found using DIAM corks include Basel Cellars, Amos Rome, Owen Roe and Kontos Cellars (all to be reviewed in the March issue). Other wineries including Chateau Ste. Michelle and Waterbrook have used composite corks from unidentified sources, which makes a lot of sense for large companies. 

One thing I have discovered about composite corks is that they are harder to extract from the bottles. These corks are thicker and denser that traditional corks, and therefore less pliable. I have found that they are easier to pull out with the double wing corkscrews than with the lever waiter's corkscrews. 

What all this means is that we can expect taint free wine whenever the bottle has been enclosed by a composite cork, removing the uncertainty that can accompany traditional corks. Fewer corked bottles is a real benefit.