LISBON When Chinese choose wine, the bottle-stopper matters. That fact is at the heart of a global battle between cork wine-bottle stoppers and man-made metal and plastic alternatives. In recent years, the competition has tilted decisively in favor of tradition thanks to consumer preferences in a nation that barely touched grape vintages a generation ago.
Between 2004 and 2009, cork stoppers lost market share in the face of competition from new alternatives, but since then have made a steady comeback. According to Amorim, Portugal's largest cork company, cork was used in at least 70% of the approximately 19 billion bottles of wine produced in 2017. And cork is moving further ahead because of soaring demand in China, which will overtake the U.K. as the world's second-largest market for wine by 2020, according to industry group Vinexpo -- though domestic brands account for 80% of the market. China already boasts the world's second-largest hectarage devoted to vineyards, just behind Spain.