The cork is synonymous with wine; it is as much of a part of wine's heritage as bubbles are to champagne, making many prefer the old natural cork to synthetic ones and metal caps. How else would one enjoy the grand ‘pop’-ing of one’s Champagne without the cork?
The great argument between whether or not to continue to use natural cork or create a synthetic substitute started a few years ago when people realized what a challenge it had become to create something from nature, such as cork, into a food-grade object to seal and protect one’s wine. The difficulty in bending nature to one's needs is not the only barrier, natural cork, if not implemented and cared for properly can lead to wine bottle leakage and corked wines. The statistics have long stated that 1 in 10 bottles of wine will be "corked". However, as it has been discovered, if the proper cleaning products, sans chloride, are utilized in the winery for sanitation, then a corked wine can be a thing of the past.
Arguments Against the Usage of Cork?
The cork can have an affect on wine storage, causing another grand argument against the usage of cork as mentioned above. Bottles can actually leak if the cork dries out. However, proper storage by the wine owner can eliminate the threat of leakage.
- Solution 1: Store your wine in a location around 75% humidity, and keep the bottles on their side. A traditional wine rack does the trick, avoid storing wine upright.
- Solution 2: Even if your collection is not that sizable to make a proper cellar in your home, wine coolers are very inexpensive these days and will keep wines at their ideal temperature and humidity. Voila; your storage challenges are solved.
The great argument against using cork lies with the concept of there being a cork shortage! Let’s get that notion out of the way early, shall we? There is NO cork shortage!
Cork trees, a member of the oak family by the name of Quercus Suber, can be found in Spain, Portugal, Algeria, Italy, Tunisia and France. In all of those countries combined, there is a total of 2.2 million hectares of Quercus Suber trees planted. Unlike almost all trees, in order to harvest the goods, you do not need to cut down a cork tree! Of all the industries surrounding trees, growing cork is the most environmentally friendly. As they grow in warm, Mediterranean climates where water shortage is not an uncommon problem, these trees can prevent desertification. Lets spend a little time learning about this truly amazing tree.
The Cork Tree
These trees can live up to and around three hundred years. When the tree reaches an age of 25 years, the first cork can be harvested simply by stripping the bark. This does not kill the tree, and it can be harvested every nine years thereafter. The higher up the tree the cork is harvested from, the better the quality. Most of the cork taken near the base of a tree is used for such things as fishing rods, fishing floats, home insulation (it is fire retardant), good ole cork boards, floors and wall tiling, etc.
For the use of wine, the best corks are those which are made from one piece of solid cork. Lower quality corks are those which are made of small particles of cork that are glued and pressed together. In any case, cork can always be recycled, reused and it is biodegradable.
Wine experts may argue that cork has proven many times that it is an unfit and unreliable closure to securely store and age wines. This may be true. However, most people purchasing wine are not doing so with the full intention of cellaring their wine. Most are kept for months rather than years and a cork makes for a suitable closure.
Are Cork Alternatives Eco-Friendly?
Today we see plastic enclosures, aluminum stoppers (Stelvin closures) and more recently, glass stoppers are becoming popular. Remember that cork is recyclable and biodegradable? That is not all. Think twice about how you want your wine to be stoppered. Each plastic stopper releases ten times more CO2 than cork, and the aluminum, 26 times more CO2. While you may be able to recycle the plastic "corks", they are hardly eco-friendly. Nor are they easy to re-cork a wine with, and the aluminum stopper cannot really be recycled as it is lined with plastic.
Cork still stands as a traditional favorite and while experts say enclosures don't affect the taste of wine, many wine connoisseurs still prefer the oaky aroma a cork offers to a freshly opened bottle of wine. So in defense of cork, get yourself a good corkscrew (double levers are the best), and enjoy your wine as it has been enjoyed for generations. Save the cork.