To Cork Or Not To Cork? That Is The Question
What exactly is the fascination about having a cork in your wine bottle? And is corking wine really all that important?
The History of Wine Corks
Until the eighteenth century, most wine was served from the barrel in pitchers and carafes. The process of corking wine had not yet come around. Can you imagine that happening today?
It was a traveling monk that stopped to visit Dom Perignon at the Hautvillers Abbey, where he was the head wine maker that the cork became a viable closure for wine bottles. This was especially important in his now-famous Champagne.
Storage and aging of wine truly became possible with the invention of the cork. The development of a reliable seal made it possible for the winemaking industry to soar. The French and Italians realized it was the “bark” of the Cork oak tree that could produce this unique stopper. This unique tree was predominantly found in Portugal at the time, but is grown all over now. These days, regulators control the harvesting of the bark to prevent waste and overgrowth. The bark for corks can’t be harvested until the tree is 25 years of age. Even then, cork makers can only strip the bark at intervals of 9 to 12 years on each mature tree. Thanks to this tree, wine corking has become widely possible.
Wine Corking: Lessons Learned
With the growth of the wine industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s this placed an unrealistic burden on the tree farmers to produce more cork for bottling wines around the world. The increased demand for “natural cork” forced some individuals to remove bark prematurely. Overlooking the processing steps to clean and allow corks to fully expand into a tight “honeycomb” cell structure caused many inferior corks.
As a result, the wine industry suffered the consequences of poor, damaged or sub-standard corks.
When wine corking goes wrong, like it did in the 1980s and 1990s, bottles of wine become tainted. This smell is referred to as TCA (tri-chloroanisole) and gives wine a moldy unpleasant odor that makes it undrinkable.
Because of this, vintners grew alarmed at the dramatic loss of their precious wines and looked to create alternatives that would protect their wines.
Wine Corking Alternatives
Although corks are still used by many wineries, we have found some great wine corking alternatives, which have proven to be effective and attractive to the consumer.
One alternative is the screw cap (Stelvin cap) made by the Alcan Company. Alcan produces the caps from aluminum and are used mostly in New Zealand and Australia. However, the caps have gained popularity around the world, especially for wine made in Napa, California.
In addition to the Stelvin cap, there are two other closures to consider. I have found these to resemble more of a traditional style for good quality wines. The first is the Vino-Lok (Vinoseal), which I discovered while visiting Oregon vineyards a few years ago. The Vino-Lok is a glass stopper with a plastic collar, which creates an unmatched flavor seal. These are produced in Europe and provide the hermetic seal to keep out any contamination. Furthermore, I believe it looks very elegant after you remove the foil capsule!
Another revolutionary design is the “Zork” which is a flexible plastic stopper that fits snuggly around the bottle. You can unwrap the top and it will also allow you to reseal the bottle. The Zork is my personal favorite, since you still can have the effect of the “popping” sound when uncorking a wine. This style also give you the seal and keep the wine taint free. You just can’t beat it, in my opinion.
My word of advice is not to worry about the wine stopper. When considering the quality of the wine, look at the wine maker, not the wine stopper. If the winery has a history of consistent, quality wines with the flavor and style you enjoy, then go for it. At Time for Wine, we have discovered several wine makers in both Europe and USA that have embraced new wine corking technology on new vintage wines. It liberates my soul to know I can purchase a bottle of wine, take it home, and not worry if it will be “cork-tainted”.
At Time for Wine ,when we “pop corks” it is pure entertainment! We are excited about our new wines and look forward to talking to you soon.