To cork or not to cork

Today I would like to take my point of reference from a blog entry posted by the excellent Polish journalist Slawka G.Skarso (pronounced Sùavca), which analyses the theme of the cork as the privileged closure used for bottles of wine.

Here is a short segment from the entry:

“Cork is natural patrimony, a fundamental part of the Mediterranean ecosystem, beyond the obvious fact that its characteristics render it particularly well-adapted to the closure of bottles. This is the reasoning behind the fear that on finding alterative systems, cork will be abandoned.”

The diatribe against the idea that that cork can be substituted or less for the closure of bottles has been going on for years.

This prized material, in the form that we know it today, has been used for centuries, since Haut Brion sent his costly Claret to London from France at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Without a doubt cork possesses the best qualities for the conservation of wine in bottles, thanks to its high elasticity and impermeability to liquids and gas. It is also an optimal thermal insulator and permits a slow interchange between the wine and the environment.

Natural cork is also odourless, flavourless, non-toxic, aseptic, and non-allergenic.

On the other hand is does present a problem that remains unresolved today, which is tied to the presence of a parasitic fungus on the cork oak, called Armillarea Mellea, which is responsible for that annoying defect that we commonly call cork taint (tricloroanisolo).

For some time many alternatives to cork have been on the market, which besides being much less expensive also avoid this problem, but wine purists do not accept them: Crown caps, synthetic caps, glass caps, and the ever more in vogue screw-cap (like those of mineral water).

Personally, I am of the opinion that for the great wines of premium quality, intended to endure over time, cork is in fact a material that cannot be substituted, a material that contributes to the evolution of the wine, which is a living substance that cannot withstand suffocation for very long.

The cork cap is tied to the image of noble wines, emblazoned with coats of arms, products of long years of aging, and the position of many consumers who display diffidence towards wines bottled with diverse types of caps is psychologically comprehensible.

Which is not to say that alternative systems mustn’t enter into our practices, at least for wines intended to be enjoyed in their first years of life.

They are practical and less expensive methods and safeguard wine from the age-old problem of tap odour.

In countries that do not have wine-culture baggage, such as the countries of Scandinavia, these closures have not only been acceptable for some time, but they are often preferred to traditional closures, even for more prized wines.

And the producers, whether they like it or not, will have to adapt themselves in order to not miss out on future opportunities. The wine needs to be handled properly, but it is also necessary to consider market reality, which is that of the hunt for money.

And what do you think about it?