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Published:  18 January, 2007

The White Queen, readers of Lewis Carroll will recall, told Alice she had the habit of believing six impossible things before breakfast. Roger Scruton seems to believe one impossible thing before he opens any bottle of wine. He writes, No screwtop can match the use, beauty and moral significance of a cork', and doubtless the more rational New Statesman reader who encountered the article wherein these sentiments were published last August went on his way without giving such pompous proclamations, however entertaining, any more heed.

Mr Scruton is a philosopher. Of what, I have no idea. Even after meeting him and mildly debating with him, I have no idea. He traces his disaffection with the screwcap to his schooldays when this word was applied to him as a nickname (inspired by his surname and his head of curly hair). By the same token, similarly crippled by nostalgia, I would have spent my adulthood repelled by copulation as my school nickname, unrepeatable within the staid pages of this publication, rhymed with my surname. Luckily for me, though my children may feel otherwise, my accursed and vulgar nom d'cole did not render me impotent for life.

The cork has nothing moral to it. Cork is, in truth, an amoral seal as it permits faulty products to go on sale not only by virtue of 2,4,6-trichloranisole but, worse, far far worse, it introduces an element of chance so that no bottle of wine aged for more than a few years, in some cases even a few months, is like its sibling from the same vintage barrel or tank. If all the other everyday objects we purchased were subject to such chance, no one would tolerate it for a second. It is because of people like Roger Scruton, who sanctify the cork by peddling poppycork about the pseudo-religious element it confers by being inherently unstable, by publicising the canard that a screwtop reduces a wine to the level of an alcopop, that there are still drinkers, keen for clarification on the subject, who are suspicious of the screwcap. Luckily, we have British supermarkets to lead the way by increasingly screwcapping their wines, and these retailers are themselves led by Tesco (though like Nigel Slater, who confesses in his latest book, The Kitchen Diaries, never to have set foot in any branch of Tesco, Mr Scruton may be similarly averse to this supermarket's charms).

The pop' of the cork may give the Scrutons of this world goosebumps, perhaps erections for all I know, but it induces in me, every time I eat out and the wine waiter hovers with the ordered bottle, every time I open one of the 1,000 or so bottles I open at home over a working year, every time I hear of collectors at auctions spending tens of thousands of pounds on old wines all sealed with corks, a frisson of revulsion. They say, another filthy canard, that the eagles and feral pigs who depend on the cork oaks - magnificent trees no one can deny - will die if the forests are no longer commercially maintained to produce the crop from which cork is taken to manufacture wine seals. Heavens to Murgatroyd, what rubbish! Do you suppose for one second that those pigs, eagles, owls, okapis or whatever feed among those tree trunks, will give a hoot whether the cork is peeled off the trees every decade? I rather suspect they will welcome a more peaceful existence and breed all the more abundantly. But I doubt they will get any peace even once the inevitable happens and corks are replaced by screwcaps.

The commercial significance of cork goes way beyond wine bottles, and the Portuguese and Spanish (and indeed Sardinian) cork producers will, as all other competitive industries are compelled to do, expand into other markets in order to maintain their livelihoods.

It is interesting that many proponents of cork seals never search for reasons why the idea of shoving a chunk of tree bark into a wine bottle is often unhygienic and wildly erratic, but instead go in for character assassination on its most serious rival. I have, over the past 15 years, sampled screwcapped wines up to 32 years old.

Some, it is true, suffered from seemingly excessive sulphur retention, perhaps because their winemakers were still using levels they employed with cork-sealed wines, but these are teething problems. There are other associated problems with the anaerobic environment bequeathed by the screwcap. However, I have yet to sample a hopelessly undrinkable screwcapped wine or one mildly defruited. The cork cannot only not compete, it demands an offensive male phallic symbol to remove. My grandchildren will be able to stare at such objects under museum glass.