Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  Editorial Issue 31, June 2005   
Wine and Cork: a Complex SubjectWine and Cork: a Complex Subject MailBoxMailBox  Contents 
Issue 30, May 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 32, Summer 2005

Wine and Cork: a Complex Subject


 It would be hard to believe, nevertheless in the world of wine that little element which is put on the top of a bottle - and having the function of sealing it - has a fundamental and strategical importance, last but not the least, cultural and traditional as well. There are so many arguments going on around that simple cork cylinder - or of any other material - most of the times giving less importance to what should be considered no matter the type of seal which is put in the bottle. Nevertheless, even though we all do not fully realize this, that seal often conditions our acceptance towards that wine which the seal should protect from the external dangers: in case the cork meets the expectations of consumer, it is more likely the wine contained in the bottle will be considered of higher quality as well. How can it be a little cylinder made of cork or of any other material - the closure - is capable of influencing the prejudice and the acceptability of wine in such an important way?

 According to the opinion of many consumers, it seems the cork plays an important role in the acceptability of a wine, according to producers, its role would be less important. By trying to be objective, without being influenced by cultural and prejudicial factors, we believe producers are right. We do not think it is enough closing a bottle with a high quality cork closure to make a wine better. In other words, a cork does not make a wine. Cork undoubtedly has fundamental importance in those wines destined for long aging periods in bottle, in which the essential exchange of air from the inside of the bottle to the outside is ensured by the characteristics of natural cork. The same is not so important in those wines destined to an immediate consumption, as the aging in bottle, not only is not recommended, it also worsen the organoleptic qualities of the wine. Moreover, whenever it is possible, it is always better to see a bottle with a good synthetic cork instead of a bad natural cork.


 

 According to the point of view of producers, it is absolutely essential a wine reaches the glass of consumers in the same condition it left the winery, with all of its organoleptic qualities being unaltered and unspoiled. In this sense, it certainly is not the cork the only factor allowing the achievement of this goal: a wrong service temperature, wrong glass, bad keeping of wine, are all elements equally important playing a fundamental role in the appreciation of a wine. This includes the cork as well, of course. In fact, it is enough the cork is faulty, both because it has been damaged by the effects of tricloroanisole - also known as TCA or corky smell - as well as because of an insufficient tightness, the wine, even in the most appropriate serving conditions and keeping, does not express its best qualities. If it is true consumers have accepted with no problems the introduction of the most innovative technologies in the production of wine - while recognizing their fundamental role in the production of quality wines - the technological progresses made by the closure industry seem to have a lesser acceptability.

 If we consider the now very common statistical figures which everyone knows, 4-5% of wine bottles are damaged by the effects of the trichloroanisole spoilage in natural cork closures, with the consequence of the well known and disgusting corky smell. Moreover, to these figures must be added about a 10% of wines that, because of an insufficient tightness of natural cork closures, get prematurely oxidized therefore damaging the wine. If we consider these figures, the loss because of accidental factors caused by corks is not irrelevant. This does mean in a production of 100,000 bottles, there is a loss of more than 10,000 bottles of wine. This loss, undoubtedly, also affects the price of wine: it is evident this loss represents an increasing in costs for producers. The solutions proposed to these kind of problems include the well known synthetic corks - which are not completely accepted by consumers yet - as well as the most recent introduction of screwcaps, used since a long time in ordinary and bulk wines, soda pops and mineral waters.

 If it is true synthetic corks suffer from a strong resistance by consumers, for most of them screwcaps are even considered unacceptable. The results of studies about this subject, ensure these kind of closures allow a better keeping of the freshness and the integrity of aromas and flavors of wines in which are being used: a factor that should grant them a better acceptability and preference. However it is undeniable the better tightness of these corks accelerates reductive processes, and in just 18 months the quality of wines is seriously compromised. This latter consideration should suggest not using synthetic corks or screwcaps in wines destined to long aging in bottle. This is what producers know as well and - in fact - they make use of synthetic corks and screwcaps in wines destined to an immediate consumption, such as whites, roses and young reds. It is not an economic matter only: it is undeniable it is the primary interest of producers to ensure their products the best consumption conditions possible. This should be the interest of consumers as well.

 Nevertheless the closure is still a complex and delicate subject, which irritates consumers when they see a bottle sealed with a synthetic cork. It is such a delicate subject which could make one thinks the wine contained in the bottle is less important and it seems to be the cork what it is being poured in glasses. Of course, it is also something associated to tradition and culture. Anyway, does it really make sense - in the sake of tradition - allowing the spoilage of a wine when it can be avoided? It is also true a screwcap deprives the consumers of the enjoyable ceremony of the opening of a bottle made of corkscrews and cares: a simple and quick movement and the wine is ready to be poured in a glass. Anyway, this is a cultural barrier very hard to change. Despite the efforts of producers in having these closures accepted, many consumers still have the prejudice synthetic corks and screwcaps are used in low quality wines. A cultural change hard to achieve, saved the case consumers will begin to pay more attention to what it is being poured in their glasses instead of paying attention to what they see in a bottle. After all, the attention paid to the cork is limited to the time in which the bottle is being uncorked: the pleasure of the appreciation of a wine has a truly longer time, no matter the closure is made from natural cork or any other synthetic material.

 



   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column ABC Wine 
  Editorial Issue 31, June 2005   
Wine and Cork: a Complex SubjectWine and Cork: a Complex Subject MailBoxMailBox  Contents 
Issue 30, May 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 32, Summer 2005

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 In this column are published our reader's mail. If you have any comment or any question or just want to express your opinion about wine, send your letters to our editorial or fill in the form available at our site.

 

My compliments for your interesting publication, every month rich in interesting things to learn for us wine lovers. I often hear talking about “all purpose meal wines” and I personally believe it is pretty hard to find a wine which can be matched to every food of a meal. I would like to know your opinion about this subject and, if possible, to know the types of wines which can be used for this purpose.
Annamaria Gregori -- Bologna (Italy)
The definition all purpose meal wine is pretty vague and most of the times inappropriate as well. If we consider, for example, a meal in which are being served a soup and a roast, it is pretty hard to find a wine which can meet objective requirements for a good match with both foods. Whether for the soup we could choose a white or a rose wine, this wine will be hardly matched to the roast, saved some cases in which it is roasted white meat. The same problem is true in case it would be chosen a bodied red wine to be matched to the roast with the consequence of penalizing the soup which would be covered by the personality of the wine. Indeed the term all purpose meal wine means a wine suited for a non excessively elaborated meal or however made of pretty similar foods both for nature and preparation. Most of the cases this term is used to refer to a wine capable of satisfying, even though with some exceptions and compromises, the usual needs for meals consumed every day. By obeying to the common saying In Medio Stat Virtus (the virtue is in the middle), the best all purpose meal wines would probably be roses: they have more body than whites and less body than reds, therefore more suited for this compromise as they generally offer good freshness, good aromas and “enough” structure.



I read in your magazine brandies should not be served in balloon glasses as they excessively exalt alcohol. Moreover I read the habit of warming a distillate with a flame should be avoided as well. As these two habits are not advisable, why do they keep on serving brandies this way? My compliments for your publication.
Philip Baker -- Chicago, Illinois (USA)
Serving a distillate in a balloon glass means, first of all, to excessively exalt the volatile and ethereal quality of alcohol while penalizing the development of all other aromas. Alcohol is a highly volatile element and it does not certainly need high quantity of oxygen in order to develop. Warming a distillate with a flame before its consumption, could develop burnt aromas and tastes because of high temperature. Moreover, warming a distillate with a flame excessively develops the ethereal character of alcohol with the result of making the distillate pungent during the evaluation of aromas: a condition which can also cause an unpleasing and painful reaction. The reason why distillates are often served this way should be found in traditions and in those habits now commonly accepted and believed to be right. Also thanks to improved distillation and aging techniques, distillates generally have now a higher finesse and a better organoleptic quality, as to require the use of more modest sized glasses capable of exalting the elegant and refined characteristics of aromas. If we consider the modern Cognac glass - a tulip shaped glass of small size - it can be understood how the tasting of this distillate has developed over time. In fact the classic balloon glass was traditionally associated to Cognac in the past and it represented an indisputable rule for its service. Today connoisseurs avoid using this type of glass and prefer the more suited tulip shaped glass.



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  Editorial Issue 31, June 2005   
Wine and Cork: a Complex SubjectWine and Cork: a Complex Subject MailBoxMailBox  Contents 
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