When unprocessed it serves as a “sweaters” to gorgeous strong trees in several countries, once processed it holds one of the most precious liquids in our existences: wine. Yes this time we will talk about cork, where it comes from, why is it so special and the reason why is it slowly disappearing from our bottles.
Cork started to be used in Europe around the 1300 since it was malleable and at some point flexible enough to be squeezed into a bottle and seal its liquid, as the material got soaked it expanded slightly tightening against the glass.
Cork comes from the bark of Quercus suber, a marvelous type of tree that grows up to 25m high. A cork oak tree has to turn 25 years old in order to give the first harvest of cork which usually is not the best. After this, every 9-12 years the cork can be “stripped off” or extracted from the trees. One of these beauties lives up to 300 years!
In one year an approximate of 200,000 tons (roughly 13 billion wine stoppers!) is produced; about a 50% coming from 49.6% Portugal, 30% from Spain, and the rest spread out around Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy and France.
The extraction of cork is an art since it has to be done by hand only and using a specific type of axe which has to be very sharp. The experts must know the exact amount of force to be used in order only to cut the bark and not to damage the tree which will grow the bark back.
A much as I can write about the art of extracting cork out of millenary trees, an image is worth a thousand words, check out the video here..
Now the big controversy starts.. if cork production is not large enough for nowadays consumption how could plastic stoppers or BIB (Bag-in-Box) affect our wine presentation and characteristics?
The use of alternative wine stoppers such as plastic stoppers or screw caps have been growing slowly in the last 30 years. It is not as nice to have a plastic stopper in a bottle but still feels a bit more authentic as opposed to screw caps. However a regular plastic stopper seals the wine at a 100 % inside the bottle. The main reason why people preferred real cork stoppers relied on oxygenation, since its porous material allowed oxygen to pass slowly into the liquid inside the bottle helping it develop throughout the years. There are a few companies that are developing plastic stoppers with oxygen management technology such as Nomacork.
Many make the mistake to associate screw caps with cheap wine. What many don’t know yet is that some screw caps are also being designed in such a way that a measured amount of oxygen is let in just as if it had a cork stopper! Not to mention it requires less energy to be produced as opposed to a plastic stopper.
Now how is this possible? With devices that I call “wine Ferraris” such as the Nomasense, an oxygen measuring gadget that even before opening your wine it will allow you to check on the oxygenation prior to consumption, during decanting or so.
Wine in a box.. I bet you immediately thought of cheap cooking wine since for years that’s how it was sold. Many producers are turning their tables into BIB packaging (Bag-in-Box) since it is not only cheaper to produce than glass but also since it lasts longer open than in a bottle. Wine in BIB however it’s not meant to be aged! Lets say in an unopened glass bottle, wine can last up to 30 years and in a BIB only six months, this is due to the porosity of the material. Once open, the box in the fridge can last up to two weeks without affecting the wine characteristics while in a bottle you can get worried after 5 or 6 days.
Wine in a can? As incredibly shocking and nonsense as it sounds, many producers both in Europe and the US, are looking into canning young wine which is not meant to be aged.
The other side of the coin…
Many say that an exorbitant number as high as 2% belongs to wine that gets bad due to TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) a chemical found in cork that would spoil your wine by giving it unpleasant aromas and tastes. What to do? I found some info in a sister blog that claims this can be “fixed” by pouring the wine into a container covered in plastic wrap since the polyethylene would trap the chemical away.
So what do you think? To cork or not to cork… keeping a tradition that endangers 2% of world wine and is also becoming quite expensive but it is definitely the most eco-friendly or going modern and using plastic stoppers that will protect your wine but not the environment? Hard to choose huh?
For more on oxygen and wine aging go here.