27 Sep Grape Tips Tuesday: Where Does Wine Cork Come From?
This Week In Wine 101: Where Does Wine Cork Come From?
Have you ever wondered where wine cork comes from and why they’re (so) important? Like so many other amazing inventions, including the barometer, air pump and a method for performing a blood transfusion, the 17th century saw the invention of the cork to preserve the life of wine in a bottle. Before that it is believed that winemakers used wet rags to plug the mouth of wine bottles. As hard as that is to imagine, I’m glad our methods for preserving the life of wine have progressed.
So what is the importance of the wine cork and where does it come from? The wine cork comes from cork oak, also known as Quercus suber, and it is a tree that lives up to 200 plus years. It is used for a variety of products but is most commonly used as a wine stopper. Cork bark is a natural material that offers a waterproof elastic seal that is nearly airtight and helps preserve the integrity of the wine. However, there are small pockets within the cork that allow small portions of air to pass through which in turn helps the wine evolve over time.
Cork bark is manufactured in the southwest Europe and northwest Africa. It’s considered environmentally friendly, because the tree does not have to be cut down in order to harvest the bark. There are three European countries that produce corks. They are Portugal, followed by Spain and Italy. In Africa, cork is produced in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
More recently there’s been a change from corks to screw caps, which raises the inevitable question – why change from corks to screw caps? And why don’t all bottles have a fixed top? Among the prevailing theories, there are two that most account for the recent rise in screw caps. The first being, worldwide cork supplies were starting to diminish and an alternative was needed. The second being, that corks were being tainted (by TCA 2, 4, and 6), and a switch to a safer alternative was required. For more information read, What’s The Deal With Wine Screw Caps And Box Wine?
As a means to avoid TCA contamination, wine manufacturers have slowly made changes to prevent wine from going bad. Does this have a negative effect on how consumers view the worth of a bottle? For some, yes; but wine lovers the world over have voiced their opinions, and the consensus is that they can’t tell a difference in the taste, nor does it devalue the wine.
In conclusion, we now know that the cork comes from a cork oak also known as Quercus suber and the tree is found in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. But the main producer of cork is Portugal. For most consumers, the use of a wine cork versus a screw cap does not make a noticeable difference. Both do their job quite well; however, with a screw cap, the chances of the wine falling victim to TCA contamination is slim to none. Unfortunately, even though winemaker’s are instituting measure to counter TCA contamination, there’s still a slight possibility of it happening with a cork, which can ruin a bottle of wine, whether $5 or $1000. For more information on TCA check out the article link listed above. Hope you find this article to be insightful. Cheers!