To Cork or Not to Cork (January 2, 2003)
In the ongoing debate about cork versus screwcaps as the best closures
for wine, I offer this cautionary tale. On a recent visit to China I was
presented with a bottle of snake wine. The beverage was made from distilled
rice, not from fermented snake. The product got its name because of the
snake that was coiled in the bottle, preserved, I presumed, by the alcohol.
Or maybe not, as the following story reveals.
The Chinese press recently reported that a peasant, Mr. Li, living in
the central Chinese province of Suizhou, opened such a bottle and the
snake inside, far from being literally and figuratively pickled, was still
alive after having spent a year in the bottle under cork. As the unfortunate
Mr. Li poured a glass the snake slithered out and bit him in the neck.
After a short stay in hospital Mr. Li was released and was reported to
be doing well under the circumstances. The fate of the snake was not mentioned.
Moral? Cork allows the passage of air into the bottle (enough to keep
a snake alive for a year, at any rate), whereas a screwcap is a tight
seal that prohibits air from entering. The producers of Chinese snake
wine would be well advised to switch over to screwcaps in future.