Understanding How a Wine Cork Gets from a Tree to Your Bottle
Contributor blog post by Jill Barth:
The cork wine stopper is synonymous with preservation – not only of the wine in the bottle but of a way of life for cork farmers and the natural ecosystem of the forest. The process has been the same for generations because the system is a sustainable network benefiting the local economy, the environment, and the industries that utilize cork – particularly the wine industry.
…Continue reading here for Jill’s article (originally published on USA Today 10 Best!) on the cork industry on the Iberian Peninsula. Take a look at the striking photos of Los Alcornocales Natural Park and the sustainable practice of harvesting the bark from these oak (Quercus suber) trees for cork production. According to the Rainforest Alliance, “A single cork oak, which lives up to 200 years, can be harvested over 16 times.”
The Cork Debate and French Wine
Natural cork has been the go-to material for wine storage for centuries. Cork seals the bottle yet allows for some level of oxidisation of the wine as the stopper ages. Many argue that this is in fact what gives the wine an opportunity to mature and mellows the sugars, tannins and acids. (Read: Corks seal a wine’s fate: aging under natural vs synthetic closures, and Corks vs. Screw Caps).
Mike Veseth’s (Editor, The Wine Economist) reviewed “To Cork or Not to Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science and the Battle for the Wine Bottle” by George M. Taber. Simon & Schuster, 2007, and determined that there is no perfect wine stopper. “I learned a lot from this book. There is no best way to seal wine, there are only better ways under different circumstances with different trade-offs.” Wine will age differently depending on the choice of the plug. “No matter what stopper winemakers use, they can never be sure that the wine they put in will be the wine that you pour out.”
Don’t blame the Millennials, or not entirely. Described as a perfect storm, at the same time as a large cohort of millennials reached an age when they began drinking wine, the cork industry was suffering from the poor public perception of wine spoilage and suspect harvesting techniques. These young drinkers gravitated to contemporary labels and easy to open bottles = screw cap.
In this article, How Millennials (Almost) Killed the Wine Cork, (The Atlantic February 25, 2016), “The primary cause of cork taint is the presence of the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). But TCA isn’t limited to cork; it’s also found naturally in wood, water, soil, fruit and vegetables.”
Since the mid-2000s, the cork industry has worked with scientists, improved harvesting techniques and significantly reduced the presence of TCA in cork. However, many new world wines (Australia, New Zealand, North America) and even some producers in France have converted to screw-tops. Read: How do you like your wine – with a cork or screw-cap?
“Innovative new production processes and seriously obsessive attention to detail have now all but eliminated the incidence of detectable TCA contamination in Amorim corks throughout the product line, which is a big deal and came only after intense and expensive research and process innovation.” The Three Ages of Wine Cork Production: A Visit to Corticeira Amorim.
The French are traditionalists on many subjects related to food and drink, so it is not terribly surprising that the preferred bottle stopper remains cork, however, not without some innovation. Since 2003, Diam Bouchage (French based company) produces a high-quality manufactured cork product.
“This new technology is the culmination of research that combines permeability (Oxygen Transfer Rate) and the natural environment. It meets the demand of the brand’s customers concerning their premium wines, to create closures with more open permeability while maintaining a long shelf life; suitable for laying-down wines.”
Do you prefer wine with a cork or screw cap?