The Great Cork Debate...
To Cork or Not To Cork, that is the question...
No, we're not referring to the official "corkings" (our cork necklaces) bestowed upon our guests when they visit the Winery in celebration of a birthday or anniversary; this debate relates to the best way to seal a bottle of wine.
We've all experienced it... You've planned a special evening: good friends, fine food, and an expensive bottle of your favorite wine you've been saving for "just the right moment." All eyes are upon you as you pour your special little "gem" into your guests' glasses. Alas, the toast. Glasses raised, your guests take their first slurp; but instead of the immediately gratification you were expecting, it turns out your bottle has been "corked" that little "gem" you'd been saving has been affected by cork taint. A chemical known as 2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole (TCA). While "corked" bottles carry no health danger, they can certainly put a dent in an evening's festivities.
Some believe natural cork is the best, while others argue that synthetics or screwtops are more reliable. We, at Wilson Creek, side with the natural cork side of the debate, but thought you might enjoy weighing the pros and cons yourself. We've taken some excerpts from March 2005's Wine Spectator magazine and are committed to giving you the best unbiased opinions.
|The experience: The sound of the cork being pulled from the bottle of wine is the "music of wine" itself, an echo that evokes a world of history and culture that touches all senses. Cork voters feel twist-off capsules simply lack the elegance and class a good bottle deserves.
||Do the math: Wine Spectator's Senior Editor, James Laube, claims if corks actually preserved wines 100% of the time so we could enjoy them at their best, then this debate over the reliability of "Cork vs. Synthetics or Twist-offs" would not be happening. The wine industry estimates that anywhere between 2 and 8 percent of all wines are corked, and Wine Spectator's reported findings ranged between 4 to 12 percent.
|Helps age the wine: Cork is a key element in the maturation of wine. While there is little research in existence at this time, new studies are being done and there's a lot of talk about micro-oxidation, whereby minute amounts of air in corks interact with the wine over time. Studies reveal that synthetic corks allow for oxidation within the first month only, which are good for wines that are to be consumed within the first month after bottling. Twist offs are too efficient in keeping air out of the bottle and completely retard the wine's evolution. In short, alternative closures could derail the wine's maturation process.
||No need for aging: A winery's prime main goal for wine bottle closures should always be to help the wine be the best it can be throughout its life. When corks work, they are excellent closures; however, there's no guarantee. They also expire with age. Screw caps, twist-offs and synthetics seal the bottles so there's never any worry about "corking." So while there may be arguments about synthetics retarding wine development, it is reported that as many as 95% of most wines purchased in America are consumed in the first year white wines consumed even earlier.
|Quality control better today: Quality Control is becoming the focus for cork sellers. Since cork remains the "standard," the cork industry is spending millions of dollars on research and development fees in order to improve performance. Cork is a natural product that comes from forests of Europe and North Africa.
||NO failure rate: Quality Control has been exceptionally demonstrated with the aluminum screw cap by several wineries of late. While Gallo showed this for decades, Stelvin is one of the most recent early leaders in their use. They claim their failure rate is virtually nil that the aluminum cap actually preserves the bouquet and flavors of the wine and allows the bottle to be easily opened and resealed.
|Ecological and health issues come into play here too when tackling the debate. When a natural "cork" option is available to us, who would want something made from petroleum derivatives (synthetic corks) or metal (twist-offs)?
||Ecological and health issues come into play on this side of the debate too. To some, it is felt that it's illogical to use a plug of tree bark that could be moldy or tainted by TCA to keep wine fresh. It's what's in the bottle that counts not what seals it.
|Safer: There are safety concerns as well. With today's packaging, twisting off a "screw cap" on anyone's favorite beverage is an every-day occurrence at just about any age. We've seen a few colorful labels out there with cute little animals on them that could easily confuse the best of us on its content if we didn't know better.
||Multiple options good: It is envisioned that one day there will be multiple stoppers available specially designed to complement the world's ever-growing array of wine styles, since no one closure suits every varietal.
Note! Just to let you know, we choose only the most reputable cork companies from which we purchase our corks. Since our opening in 2000 we have experienced almost NO cork taint at Wilson Creek. Before the mid 1990's the quality control on corks was not as stringent as it now. Research shows that wines bottled after the mid 1990's have much less taint, although taint still exists. That is why you smell the wine in a restaurant before you let the waiter/waitress pour the wine. No need to sniff the cork, just sniff and slurp the wine. What do you look for in testing the wine? A "corked" wine will smell of chemicals. It will not be appealing to the nose. Your job at a restaurant is to catch that low percentage of "corked" bottles from being served at your table. If you catch one, simply send it back for a new bottle, and go through the screening process again.