Once upon a long, long time ago, this column addressed the topic of cork taint, a fairly innocuous term for—well—tainted cork. Vintners have warned that anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of bottled wine can go rancid these days even before it's opened, and the causes are twofold—insects that contaminate the cork trees of Portugal and Spain between the traditional seven-year harvests and a fungal mold that grows naturally inside the fiber. Now that next Tuesday is almost here, cork taint, especially as it affects Champagne, is more top of mind—and you've probably already noticed that many manufacturers have turned to aluminum screw-tops as viable substitutes, which they are.But why stop there? You still have a few days to run out and score a few new stoppers, fast becoming the classy alternatives to the lowly metal caps. Such items come in all sorts of shapes and price ranges, topping out at about $75 at some places—but since you're fairly miserly to begin with, you might want to look at some Millefiori pieces, hand-crafted on the Italian island of Murano, which will lighten your load by about $19.95 each. For $15, you can own a Gemstone stopper, with a little tiny map of the world on its rounded surface. Pewter, crystal, steel, wood, glass: The possibilities are as endless as the designs. There's even a website, www.winestoppershop.com, that pretty much tells you what you need to know. The items are also available at BevMo and better gift shopsUnlike cork, the stopper is reusable and utterly washable, virtually eliminating the chance for any nasties to screw up your stock before the big party. We only hope you won't turn this attractive precaution into a lost cause, like last time. You got pretty sick, all right, but it wasn't from the cork.
—Martin Jones Westlin
Our pick for an inexpensive, tasty Champ, er, sparkling wine: Domaine Ste. Michelle, spotted around town for as low as $7.99.