What’s in a Cork? More Than You Might Expect

Vintners are split on their views of how to seal wines to keep the quality and freshness intact during shipping and storage. If the sealing method is a success, the wine ends up being a hit at the dinner table. If not, the wine is judged undrinkable. Synthetic corks are a growing technique of sealing wines, but some traditionalists refuse to change the time-honored method of sealing their precious cargo with cork closures. When corks can be removed easily and the contents are fresh and distinctly flavored, the cork becomes an insignificant item to the buyer. But if the cork is dry and brittle and the wine has turned to vinegar, the cork becomes all important. Most corks are carved from the bark of an oak tree that grows in Portugal and in other Mediterranean countries. The fiber of the cork can be attacked by a fungus that causes the cork to become moldy, thus destroying the quality of the bottle’s contents. Some vintners are combating the cork’s flaws by using methods to ensure that molds, bacteria and yeast are removed from the cork wood before processing. Boiling the cork in water helps to kill the microorganisms in the cork. They are then flattened, cut into strips and carved into bottle corks. Synthetic corks are formed from plastic compounds and have been found to reduce the risk of wine contamination. Many vintners believe that they convey a slight chemical flavor to the wine and also have a disadvantage of being difficult to remove from the bottle. Screw on caps for wine bottles are made from tin or aluminum and form a seal that can last much longer than the traditional cork closures. But vintners are reluctant to use screw tops on their fine wines because customers identify that type of seal with cheap wines. Crown caps are also part of a growing trend to find a way to successfully seal wines. It has long been used in the sparkling wine market during the fermentation process. But although the crown cap provides a tight seal, the ceremonial aspect involved with opening a bottle of wine is eliminated. No one wants to open a bottle of wine at a home gathering or restaurant and find that it’s turned to vinegar. The purchaser is disappointed and the vintner suffers a loss. That’s why wine manufacturers are making wine closures their number one priority.


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