Choosing a wine, you have probably seen bottles with completely different corks. Which one is better to take? – you probably thought. Is there a difference? Someone told you that good wine should only be covered with a natural cork. Of course! That bottle opening sounds great! What elegance and what anticipation of pleasure follows it! But suddenly you remember that you are going on a picnic and you forgot the corkscrew. What a shame! Maybe take wine with a screw cap and not suffer? What will people think? Cheap! Or maybe not! The wine looks decent and the price isn’t that cheap! In order not to worry about all these thoughts, let’s look at the different types of corks and the cases they are appropriate.
A bit of cork history
In general, corks appeared in the 5th century BC and they closed not bottles, but amphorae with wine. Since the 17th century, when glass bottles are becoming more and more confident, corks have become irreplaceable.
Natural corks are made from the bark of the cork tree. More than half of all natural cork comes from Portugal. A quarter from Spain. The rest is shared by other mainly Mediterranean countries. Why only this tree? Its bark contains the element suberin, which is responsible for the elasticity of the cork, as well as other components that make the cork waterproof. The structure of the bark of this tree is very porous, 90% of the volume is eventually filled with gases. The cork can be compressed up to 64% of its original size. Therefore, it is easy to cork a bottle with it. After that, in the neck of the bottle, the cork straightens again and serves as a reliable way to store wine.
This cork is made from a single piece of cork bark. It is best suited for wines with bottle ageing potential. So if you buy wine to replenish your wine cellar and open the wine in a few years, then yes, pay attention to the fact that it is closed with a solid natural cork.
This cork is also made from cork bark, but not from a single piece. Most often, the middle of the cork is made of agglomerated shavings, which remain after the production of holistic natural corks. Its edges, which are in contact with wine and air, are made of small pieces of solid cork. It is a good alternative to holistic natural cork. It costs less, and the properties are similar. But such a cork is not designed to store wine for too long. 6 years from the moment of bottling is quite normal, further it is risky. But if you buy wine to drink now or during the year, then do not be intimidated by technical corks. The pleasant sound of opening the bottle and the safety of the wine are guaranteed.
Cork for sparkling wines
Sparkling wine corks are also made from cork bark. The principle is similar to technical corks. A part of the cork that comes into contact with the wine is made from a single piece. The upper part is the agglomerate.
You’ve probably seen such fortified wine corks. The lower part that comes into contact with the wine is a natural cork, while the upper part is made of a completely different material. They are made for fortified wines, liqueurs, spirits. By opening such a bottle and drinking a glass, you can easily close it with the same stopper and keep it longer. These drinks are usually already oxidized and not as vulnerable to oxygen exposure.
These corks are made of synthetic foam with small pores that mimic the pores of natural cork. The quality of such corks can be quite different, but their price is much lower than natural ones. These corks are usually used to cork cheaper wines.
They appeared in the 70s of the twentieth century. Made of aluminium. Easy to unscrew and screw back. If you haven’t finished your wine – it is practical. It is even more practical if there is no corkscrew at hand. Many conservative, mainly southern European consumers associate such corks exclusively with cheap, low quality wine. But this is a delusion. Such cork is in no way inferior to synthetic, and sometimes even technical. Many not-so-cheap New World wines have a screw cap. More and more essential wine markets are shifting their preferences towards wines with this cork. For example, Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand.
The screw cap is convenient and does not affect the quality of young fresh wines in any way. Often even better suited for them. But the ageing of wines with such a cork for decades can be fraught with reduction. Although modern trends indicate that fewer and fewer consumers are buying wine for this purpose.
Which cork to choose?
Too much information? Let’s summarize? First of all, don’t be snobbish and stay open to all innovations, they are often not so bad. Let’s imagine you at the wine shop choosing a drink. Take the one that you like, which the sommelier advised, taking into account your preferences. Still in doubt and haunted by this cork? Well … Let’s then take a look at what you are looking for in your wine:
- Fruity aromas and freshness. Screwcap – convenient and high quality. Synthetic and agglomerate – most likely, the producer wanted to save money, think about whether he saved on the quality of wine as well. Natural cork is unjustifiably expensive for a simple young wine, in the end, you will pay this markup as a consumer.
- Long-term ageing. If you buy an expensive wine with good ageing potential, then, of course, it is strange if the producer saves on the cork. Look here for a natural cork or modern technological alternatives. But there are definitely no cheap synthetics or conglomerate here.
Some other corks
There are other types of corks. For example, glass one, but, in my opinion, it is not so common and quite expensive to bottle. So this is most likely some kind of special line. Modern technologies work in this field as well. So every year there are more and more innovative alternatives to the natural cork, which eliminates the risk of cork taint but does not lower the ageing potential of the wine, having all the other properties of natural cork. So many very prestigious wineries with expensive wines are switching to such corks. Do not worry if you open an expensive wine from a well-known estate in Bordeaux and do not find natural cork. It’s ok. Until it is not the kind of synthetics that cheap mass wines are bottled with.
How to close an already open bottle? Read here!
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Enjoy your tasting!