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  Editorial Issue 92, January 2011   
To Cork or not to Cork?To Cork or not to Cork?  Contents 
Issue 91, December 2010 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 93, February 2011

To Cork or not to Cork?


 For wine producers, as well as for the lovers of the beverage of Bacchus, the object put at the top of bottle's neck and sealing it, with the purpose of keeping intact its precious content until the moment it will be poured on a glass, seems to be still today a crucial matter. A critical matter, cause of endless polemics as well as endless prejudices. Of course, we are talking about cork, that small cylinder traditionally made of the homonymous material that with its presence reassures consumers about the quality of wine, as if it were more important than the content of the bottle. It's no use denying this: despite many years have passed since the introduction of alternative closures, there is still today a strong prejudice about their use. And not only from consumers: even producers seem to be sensible to this subject, most of the times for traditional and cultural matters, as well as of proud, instead of technical reasons.


 

 There is one point in which we do agree on: cork closure certainly is more attracting and romantic than a cold cylinder made of synthetic material. Aesthetic and sentimental matters apart, we should also keep on mind cork closure however hides an insidious danger that - in a second - it is capable of destroying the magic of a moment: the annoying cork taint. This fault is produced by the Armillaria mellea fungus - a parasite of cork tree and in case it develops in a cork closure, it produces a chemical compound with the not reassuring name 2,4,6-trichloroanisole - TCA, in short - and responsible for the disgusting smell and taste. Industries involved in the production of cork closures try to limit the development of this fungus by adopting specific treatments, however its presence is hardly detectable and one realizes about its presence only when the “damage has been done” and it is then too late. A damage not to be taken lightly as the estimates of bottles damaged by cork taint is about 7%, with peaks of 15%.

 For the sake of truth, it should be said each one has his or her own sensitivity to the perception of trichloroanisole - and this is true for any other aroma - therefore it is likely the fault perceived by one person is completely unnoticed by others. Moreover, it should be said our olfactory system tends to get used to this smell in a relatively short time: at each smell in the glass the aroma will be less and less perceptible in function of the quantity present in the wine. Lesser the quantity, faster the sensation of its vanishing from the glass. Many solutions have been proposed to the problem, only few of them really working. All currently believe preventing cork taint is impossible. To tell the truth, the solutions have been proposed many years ago, but the appreciation of consumers and producers was not the best. The idea consists in simply replacing the cork closure with another one made of different material, not only of synthetic type.

 Many years have passed since the introduction of synthetic closures as an alternative to cork closure, introduction which was welcomed, in particular from consumers, with a negative appreciation. Wines which used them were considered as lesser wines, products of lesser quality which did not deserve the honor of natural cork closure. For many consumers the view of a closure made from a material different than cork, immediately disqualified the wine. Indeed, the synthetic cylindrical closure, similar to the ones made of cork, were not the first ones to be used in wine bottles. The screw cap, for example, was used by wineries many years before, used for one or two liters bottles and destined to a mass consumption for wines of mediocre and low quality. Maybe it is the memory of those wines, which were not certainly appreciated for their quality - produced by wineries oriented to quantity production only - if the view of closures made of synthetic materials still today evokes in many consumers the idea of bad wine.

 Not only synthetic closures, not only screw caps: in the past years have been proposed many alternative solutions to cork closures. From glass closures to synthetic closures with valves capable of allowing the passage of small quantity of air, today the possibilities of replacing the cork closure in bottles are really many. The analysis of the wine contained in bottles sealed with alternative closures, by means of tasting and reliable tests, have proven quality is not lesser than wines sealed with cork closures. Today many producers have made the choice of adopting the use of alternative closures even in their best and most celebrated products. The figures of some years ago suggested wines kept in bottles sealed with closures made from a material different than cork, had a “life” of about 18 months. After this period, the effects of the lack of exchange of oxygen would have inexorably brought the end of wine.

 Eighteen months are however a sufficient time for keeping all those wines destined to immediate consumption, that is not destined to the aging in bottle. In this case the consumer will be certain that, at the opening of the bottle, will not find the annoying cork taint. Some producers who make use of alternative closures since many years, however say this period is longer than 18 months: many say that after many years these wines are still drinkable and well kept. Despite of that, it is however undeniable alternative closures are not well accepted by consumers, although their acceptability has strongly improved in the last few years. Maybe it was because of information, or even by the fact it is the quality of wine - either good or bad - to tell the truth and it is more convincing than any closure or label. Quality cork closures, the ones usually used for wines to be aged in bottle, have a pretty high cost, not always justified in wines destined to an immediate consumption. Cork closure is charming and romantic - still today irreplaceable in certain cases - however, I have no doubt about this, a good synthetic closure is always better than a bad quality agglomerated cork closure.

Antonello Biancalana






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  Editorial Issue 92, January 2011   
To Cork or not to Cork?To Cork or not to Cork?  Contents 
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