The use of the cork dates back to Antiquity where it was used to seal amphoras. With the use of wooden barrels, he experienced a long journey through the desert. It returns with the advent of glass. In France, it was in the 17th century that the monk Dom Pierre Pérignon decided to use it with a conical shape to cork champagne bottles. The industrialization of glass bottles is definitely taking hold in the wine landscape. But, competed today by the screw cap, the cork stopper has solid advantages.
If you keep your bottle for less than two years, the screw cap or cork will not change anything. On the other hand, lovers of old vintages, or wishing to see the potential of a wine for keeping expressed, will choose traditional corks. Why ? Thanks to its cells, to the presence of polyphenols in the bark of the oak, the cork gradually allows very small quantities of air to pass through. This phenomenon allows the aromas of the wine to develop over time.
If the Greeks and the Romans had adopted it for its elasticity, the cork stopper is also waterproof. Added to this impermeability is fire resistance. You should also know that cork does not attract rodents or insects.
The natural cork stopper is also closer to nature and the vines. A third of the cork oak forests (quercus suber) extend over 736,000 ha in Portugal. Harvesting takes place from May to July, when the tree begins to sweat, making it easier to peel off the bark. Once the striptease is complete, on the central part only, the tree will take at least nine years before reconstituting a layer of exploitable cork. Only 30% of the harvest will end up in corks, the rest in by-products or isolation.
Nightmare of the winegrower, obsession of the collector of fine wines, the taste of cork sometimes invites itself to the table. To avoid grimace soup, the cork makers are working hard to fight against trichloroanisole. More called TCA, this molecule makes wine unsuitable for good taste. The Portuguese group Amorim, world leader in the sector, has developed the first natural cork stopper guaranteed without releasable TCA.
Alternatives to the cork
In Austria and Germany, even for wines over €50 a bottle, the screw cap captures 80% of the market. In Switzerland, it claims 60% of the market. Three good reasons to explain this craze: no cork taste; easy to uncork and the possibility of storing the bottles upright. On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine keeping it longer than two years.
Made from derivatives of organic sugar cane, “vegetable cork” stoppers combine ageing, performance (while avoiding TCA) and sustainable development.
More recent, elegant and aesthetic, the glass stopper is gaining ground. But its high manufacturing cost destined it for top-of-the-range wines.