The first improvement in 400 years Like staunch conservatives and proud virgins, the wine industry is slow to change. Consider that wine is being produced today essentially the same way it was a thousand years ago. All that's really changed is the automation and the pricing. So it raised the hackles of many industry observers when some wineries began using artificial corks to plug up their bottles. Think of it, the world has been struggling with "natural" stoppers for 400 years, since a Benedictine monk named Dom P鲩gnon hammered a piece of tree bark into a bottle because he was sick of using oily rags as stoppers. In the years since, we've been raping trees to strip them of their bark and finding that the resulting corks often taint wines in unpredictable ways. Plus, bottles with natural corks have to be laid horizontally in order to keep the porous corks swollen and tight. Artificial corks will completely change the industry. The cork trees will be allowed to be trees again; wine won't go funky from weird bacterial diseases; and it will finally be permissible to store wine vertically, making it easier to read the labels. Don't be afraid—plastic is your friend. Three to get ready You see their wine everywhere you go: Supermarkets, wine shops—even the AM/PM Mini Market probably carries it. In this part of the world, Hogue Cellars is ubiquitous, reason enough for me to avoid it for many years. But I recently had a chance to try three of their wines. The first, a '99 Hogue Fum頂lanc ($7) had a sweet, cotton-candy aroma, then finished flowery. Next was a '99 Hogue Viognier ($16) with tasty apricot flavors and a kiss of vanilla. Last was a '98 Hogue Syrah ($15) that smelled like a Heath candy bar and offered flavors of black currant with a touch of smokiness. Dennis, My husband and I were arguing about wine terminology. He says that the opposite of dry is fruity, but I say the opposite is sweet. Save my marriage! Tanya Tanya, Hey, are you the figure skater who bopped Nancy Kerrigan on the kneecap a few years ago? And now you're into wine? What a funny world. Actually, I think it's hubby who got bopped—on the head. The term "dry" refers to a wine's absence of sugar. So the opposite of dry is sweet. Aside from its usage on Will & Grace, "fruity" refers only to a wine's resemblance to various fruits, such as blackberry, cherry, etc. Dennis Want to compare labels? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.