Where does wine tasting really begin? For some, it begins with the gentle squeaking of a cork easing its way out of the bottle.
A natural companion to wine, just how important are the corks? With remarkable characteristics, you would be surprised how often the cork is overlooked. From aging and storing to the overall charm of opening a good bottle of wine, the cork is crucial.
Let’s start with the fact that a cork is the most natural substance for closure. Featuring a complex composition, corks have compressible characteristics that provide a good seal and allow for mature development. So what’s the problem? Cork taint. A naturally occurring issue, corks can release an incredibly potent odor (TCA) caused by microbes that live in the small pores of the bark. A known risk, cork manufacturers perform routine tests. Seldom will you come across a damp, cardboard-smelling wine referred to as ‘corked wine.’ While it can be easily detected in various varietals, like a delicate Chardonnay, cork taint may be hard to determine in a robust Merlot. However, it doesn’t take a sommelier to notice this off-putting smell. With no solution in sight for taint-free corks, screw caps are the leading contender.
Easy to open and with an airtight seal, screw caps seem to be the next best thing. So why the debate? Screw caps still portray a cheaper image in the eyes of many producers as well as consumers. Commonly associated with low-end wine, some markets remain hesitant to take the modern day plunge. Whereas Australia and American markets show interest, others simply say, “screw it,” and are continuing to fight in favor of the cork.
To cork or not to cork…
European winemakers are taking the lead in defending the natural benefits of the cork by raising two important questions. First, how will wine age properly under sealed man-made material? Secondly, how will this new trend effect the environment?
The answer is that corks have a lot more to give than take. Allowing wine to breathe slowly as it ages, corks offer a natural supply of oxygen without being influenced by the outside environment. Screw caps offer no oxygen and may cause winemakers to reconsider how lively or mature they imagine their wines tasting years down the road.
Another reason to keep the tradition of corking your wine alive stems from an environmental perspective. With the ability to regrow its bark after harvest, the Cork Oak is a renewable source. Moving from cork to man-made products only means one thing: the downfall of a thriving industry that proudly prevents factors such as deforestation, erosion, and the emission of greenhouse gasses.
The next time you pop open a bottle, consider it a contribution to sustaining the environment and honoring the traditions of wine closure. Embrace the distinct smell of a wine-stained cork and the first wave of aromas.
Do you cork or cap? Let us know below!