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Did you know:
A typical cork weighs .12 oz's.

The length of the cork says something about how long the winery expected the bottle to remain preserved - a short cork means the wine should be drunk while it is young.

One of every 15-20 bottles of wine may be contaminated with bacteria, causing the wine to taste bad (a taint often referred to as 'corked'.

The term 'corked' is a polite way of saying 'stinky'.

The bark of the cork oak regrows in 8 - 14 years after each harvest.

 


How many times have you opened a bottle of wine, smelled the cork and said "Ahhh...nice!!"? For manyWine Cork of us, experience with corks has been largely limited to either being handed one by the waiter who opened our bottle of wine at dinner - or using some colorful language after having nearly mangled the cork while trying to open a bottle at home.  Whether at home, a party or a restaurant - you're likely to see corks pulled from wine bottles and set aside while you enjoy what they have helped protect for many months - possibly many years.

Cork from Cork Oak TreeWhere does cork come from?

Cork comes from the cork oak tree, Quercus suber. This is a species of oak which grows largely in Spain and Portugal. Portugal accounts for roughly 50% of world cork production due to its ideal Mediterranean climate. It takes about 25 years for the cork oak tree to develop the appropriate thickness for harvesting; then the cork may be drawn from the tree for many decades. The older the tree - the more cork it produces; some trees grow to be 170 years old.

Why use cork?Cork Oak after harvesting

Cork was used in jugs in ancient Greece and Rome due to it's superb sealing properties. Natural cork is not only perfect for sealing up bottles and jugs - it is also fire resistant and is a good acoustic and thermal insulator. Chemically the Suberin (which composes approximately 45% of the volume) inhibits the passage of liquids and gases through the membranes of the cork cells. Recent scientific testing and comparison with synthetic corks and screw caps indicates that natural cork allows the optimum amount of air into the bottle - allowing for maturation.

Plastic/synthetic Wine corksLatest trends in wine corks

If you were drinking wine in the 1950's through the 1970's, you probably never saw a plastic cork in a wine bottle, but today they are becoming more common. Screw tops are also replacing natural corks for some wineries - not simply the lower cost 'jug' wines known for their poor quality. The reasons for the disappearing cork: 1) cost 2) problem avoidance and 3) consistency. Due to the limited global cork production centered in just a few countries - and the dramatic fall in the value of the dollar versus the euro - some American wine producers have chosen to replace natural cork with plastic (inexpensive and easy to produce). In addition, natural cork can develop mold, which can ruin a bottle of wine, even an entire vintage, leading to dissatisfied customers and losses for the winemaker. Cork is an organic product and variations in consistency can affect its usability; plastic corks are essentially homogeneous, with no material variation.

What to expect with your next bottle of wine

So don't be surprised in the coming years if you open your favorite bottle of wine, ready to sniff the bouquet from the cork and find a plastic cylinder instead. Some well known, high quality wineries in the U.S. and around the world have switched to plastic corks. One day, we may say "I remember when they used real cork..." as we sip wine on the terrace or in front of the fireplace.