Views: 0 Author: Site Editor Publish Time: 2022-03-17 Origin: Site
Few images are more iconic than the uncorking of a bottle of champagne. It’s a signal for celebration that few people stop to consider. Uncorking a bottle, especially wine, is something humanity has been doing for a very long time. We have had a long and rich history with the simple stopper that continues to grow and evolve to this day. The importance of using corks when packaging wine ultimately comes down to the effectiveness of this simple seal. While there continue to be innovations in how these key elements of bottle packaging are made, corks today would still be impressively recognizable to the first winemakers of long ago.
Corks have been an essential part of the bottling industry for centuries. Stoppers made from this material have been found as far back as ancient Egypt with many samples surviving in tombs. The need to properly seal wines and other spirits was clear even at the dawn of these beverages’ development into the goods we now enjoy today. Much to the surprise of many, very little has changed in the techniques we use today to reduce spoilage of goods in this way.
Simply fill the container and apply the cork by securely pounding it into place with a bottle sealing system or by hand using a traditional wooden or rubber mallet. In general, not even the shape of this wonderful invention has changed much. The most common adaptation of the typical cylinder shape is conical or T-top. The more quick-accessible ‘T-top’ allows the cork to be pulled without the use of a corkscrew.
Nowadays, there are a few variations of seal material, but the concept and application remain as true to history as ever. More complex varieties are used to adapt to the unique chemical traits, aromas, and flavors of wines. The most common change is the fusing of solid cork with processed cork compounds.
The term “cork” describes both a function and a material. Traditionally, corks have been made from the material that gives them their name. The material in question is the naturally occurring bark of the evergreen oak species, Quercus Suber. Native to northwest Africa and southwest Europe, this species has been carefully cultivated for years. In ancient times, these oaks were felled to collect their precious bark and hardwood simultaneously.
Nowadays, groves are maintained, and the bark is harvested every eight to 15 years. With a better understanding of these beautiful trees, cork producers can strip the bark so the life functions of the tree are not interrupted. Each tree can live up to two hundred years and will produce up to sixteen harvests in its lifetime. In other words, cork is an essential material of modern life that is completely sustainable.
In its natural form, cork can be immediately applied with little to no processing. It can also be processed into other variations. Most commonly cork is ground into a medium to fine crumble and mixed with glue. By its porous nature, this material allows a gradual mixing of air and wine that helps wines age properly. Mixed corks are generally denser, reducing the amount of air let in. In more unusual styles of cork, layers of medium, fine, and natural forms are built into one stopper. The result is custom aging that best supports the make-up and nature of a beverage.
Besides this unique tree bark, corks today have a few alternative material options. One of the next oldest choices is glass. When carefully fitted, glass can form an effective seal and is very attractive. Winemakers today often select a type of synthetic cork, such as polymer or plastic. Often, these materials also have porous qualities like natural cork and can be selected based on the types of wines they will seal.
While synthetic materials lack the authenticity of cork, they do solve the one problem it has. Cork is inherently fungal and bacteria-resistant, but occasionally natural defenses are not enough. As with most agricultural efforts today, pesticides are still deployed to some degree. A common compound found in different types of antibacterial and antifungal chemicals includes TCA. Traces of TCA can soak into cork and ultimately it interacts poorly. Wines stopped with TCA-infected cork often take on the damp smell which can be off-putting, though it's harmless. Luckily, only a mere 7% or less of wines are expected to suffer from TCA, and wine sellers typically will replace corked bottles.
Choosing any variety of cork, be it natural, mixed, or synthetic, is a strategic decision dependent on expertise factors. The average user may wonder why wines, in particular, do not take advantage of the simplicity of other caps. For instance, fine spirits are typically bottled in a glass container but are sealed with a metal continuous thread type can. How can a carefully aged whiskey require any less attention than a wine?
The importance of using corks when packaging wine goes back to the oxidation factor. Certain alcohols must be sealed completely from the air and so require a metal cap or a quality glass-stopped decanter. Wines are unique in that they benefit from the very slow release of air from the cork. The slow steeping of oxygen into wines changes their flavor for the better, making corks an essential selection for wines that are intended to age.
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