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   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 184, May 2019   
The War of ClosuresThe War of Closures  Contents 
Issue 183, April 2019 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 185, June 2019

The War of Closures


 The keeping and transport of wine is a need evidently born with the discovery of the beverage of Bacchus. Since ancient times, and of which we have written proofs from the authors of the past, whoever produced wine had the need to keep it over time and, above all, to transport it in order to get a commercial profit. Wine has been in fact an important trade commodity, literally traveling around the world, crossing countries and oceans. A problem that is not trivial, of course, and widely proven by the many solutions man adopted in the course of history with the aim of both keeping wine over time and the possibility of transporting it. In this regard, it must be noticed the wooden barrel – a tool now confined inside wineries only – was invented in order to easily transport huge quantities of wine and to make it reach very distant destinations.


 

 The sealing of containers used for keeping wine has always been a crucial and delicate aspect, with the aim of implementing efficient measures in order to avoid contact with oxygen and light. Since the time of amphorae and terracotta vessels, there have been adopted many solutions, often unique and not always effective. The introduction of the glass bottle – in the beginning quite different from the one we are used today – has in some respects made things even complicated, at least until the cork has been used for making closures. The association of bottle and cork is so strongly rooted today that for many it remains the only acceptable and traditional solution, therefore indissoluble. Cork stoppers, despite their centuries-old reputation in sealing wine bottles, do not always effectively fulfill the purpose of keeping. It is in fact enough to mention the feared cork taint, so unpleasant and devastating, capable of irreparably spoiling any wine.

 The dreaded 2,4,6-trichloroanisole – the substance responsible for the annoying fault, simply called trichloroanisole or, in short, TCA – is the risk that you run by using cork stoppers. It is a substance produced by the Armillaria Mellea, a parasitic fungus of the cork oak that produces trichloroanisole as a by-product of its metabolism. It is difficult to describe, exactly and by analogy, the smell of this fault, however, once it is perceived, it is hardly forgotten and become both unpleasant and easily recognizable in a wine. The smell of a faulty cork – also known as cork taint – may reminds the one of certain molds, a description that is however incomplete because it is a decidedly more complex sensation. Wet cardboard, wet newspaper, wet dog and dirty cellar are just some of the descriptive terms used to define the cork taint, indeed in a completely incomplete and approximate way.

 It should however be noted the incidence of cork taint has definitely decreased over the last recent years, thanks to more rigorous checks on quality and health of cork. In the past, however, uncorking a bottle and having under the nose a wine spoiled by the trichloroanisole was something quite likely to happen, with consequent economic loss for both consumers and producers. The cork evidently offers however extraordinary characteristics for the sealing of a bottle and, therefore, the keeping of wine. First of all, elasticity, capable to adapt to the neck of the bottle in order to ensure optimal sealing for several years. No less important, the characteristic that could represent a paradox, that is the ability to allow the precious oxidation of the wine and letting it to age and, possibly, improving over time. It is, of course, very small amounts of oxygen which, by passing through the tiny pores of the cork, reach the inside of the bottle.

 However, cork, with all of its pros and cons, is not the ultimate and convenient solution. Not all cork stoppers are of high quality and those having it, also have a high cost and significantly affecting the final price of wine. High quality cork stoppers are in fact used in wines intended for long aging in bottle and which are generally sold at a high price. This choice, in fact, in addition to ensuring a better keeping over time – thus allowing the wine to age and evolve profitably – undergo specific treatments usually lowering the risk of trichloroanisole contamination. In the last twenty years, many alternatives closures to cork have been proposed, both to limit the incidence of costs and the effects of the so-called cork taint. Of the many solutions proposed, we can certainly recall the so called “synthetic corks” – including those with valves allowing the calibrated passage of oxygen – glass, screw and crown caps.

 Of these alternative solutions, today it is the screw cap to get the highest appreciation from producers. It was not a simple achievement, mainly due to the prejudice of consumers, so strongly fond of the traditional cork and tending to consider every alternative solution as offensive. It must be said that, for wines destined to a long aging in bottle, quality cork remains in any case the primary choice as well as indispensable. For wines meant to be consumed in their youth or in any case within a few years from harvesting, screw cap certainly is an excellent solution. Not only does it avoid the annoying cork taint – and therefore the subsequent economic loss – but its capability to keep a wine both intact and fresh, ideal for young wines, is now widely proven. I have never had any prejudices or negative attitudes towards the so-called alternative corks and I have always welcomed bottles sealed with screw caps. Convenient, practical, easy to open, it gives our senses an intact and unspoiled wine, with the certainty of avoiding the disappointment and the risk of finding the unpleasant cork taint in your glass. Cork certainly is fascinating, but it is not always the best solution to keep wine, or at least, not all wines. It is nice to see that finally, after years of prejudices and cultural obstacles, alternative solutions – screw cap above all – are gradually spreading. After all, wine is all that matters as well as having it in your glass enjoyable and intact in its qualities, both in its youth and when kissed by the wisdom of time.

Antonello Biancalana



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  Editorial Issue 184, May 2019   
The War of ClosuresThe War of Closures  Contents 
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