A new process to prevent wine being tainted by natural cork could allay consumers' prejudices.

Various attempts have been made by the wine industry to overcome the problem of corking. The most obvious solution, to introduce new bottle stopping materials such as screw tops and plastic corks, have proven unpopular - especially among more discerning wine drinkers. Now, a cork manufacturer has found a way to eliminate the problem and continue using traditional cork.

The distinctive sound that a cork makes when pulled from a wine bottle is an integral part of the enjoyment of wine drinking for most consumers. In recent years, alternatives to the natural cork such as plastic corks or screw top bottles have been gingerly introduced, but have met with a lukewarm reception in Europe, except in the UK.

According to a survey carried out by the Californian wine producer Ernest and Julio Gallo in the run-up to its trial of screw capped bottles of its Turning Leaf range in Tesco stores in the UK, every market in Europe is at a different stage of development regarding their acceptance of alternative methods of closure to traditional natural corks. In this survey, it emerged that only British consumers were truly accepting of the screw cap. French, Italian, Spanish and Irish consumers remain very attached to natural corks, partly because they believe that it indicates a better wine, but also because it is part and parcel of the wine-drinking experience.

Certain wine producers are, however, keen to make greater use of alternative methods for closing wine bottles. A major problem is the tainting of wine by chemical reactions with natural corks, also known as corking. Up to one in ten bottles are estimated to be affected by this, caused by the chemical trichloroanisole (TCA), which sometimes occurs in the bark of cork oaks.

A new process has recently been developed to remove TCA particles from the bark. The method involves treating the bark with "supercritical" carbon dioxide. The so-called Diamond process was discovered by Sabate, the second largest cork producer in the world.

Thanks to this method, it looks as if wine drinkers can have it both ways. They can keep the image of the cork, and the pleasure of its sound, as well as have a reduced risk of finding the contents of the bottle tainted.