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This week on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© I spoke about wine enclosures, also known as corks, zorks, foam corks, and screw tops. This is a controversial topic that I’m frequently asked about by new and experienced wine drinkers. What I share with you today will not solve nor end the controversy as there are ongoing studies to determine what works, what doesn’t and why.
The wine industry looks at this topic from three different perspectives. How does a wine enclosure affect the wine by the time it reaches your glass is one concern. The type of wine made by a producer is of concern and dictates enclosure choice. Consumer perception and acceptance is also a major concern from the wine industries standpoint.
The world is running out of cork and in particular quality cork. It takes a tree that produces cork 25 years to grow. Cork may be the perfect enclosure for a wine bottle. Oxygen is the problematic common denominator in the discussion of what to use to stop the wine bottle. Wine is a living and evolving entity within the bottle the changes right up to the day you decide to open it. Many experts argue whether or not wine continues to need a minuscule amount of oxygen once it has been bottled. This really depends on what type of wine a winemaker has produced. If you are Chateau Latour and you produce premium wine that becomes better over a 20 year plus period of time you may want only the very best cork that is available. The best quality of cork when a wine is being stored perfectly allows a minute amount of oxygen to continue to keep the very finest of wines alive in the bottle. The best quality of cork serves its purpose by keeping oxygen out of the bottle; this is the miniscule amount of oxygen the experts are suggesting.
Today we live in such an “in the moment” and “instant gratification” world that the wine industry worldwide has responded by producing wines that are made to be consumed within a year of bottling, ninety five percent of them in fact. These wines are produced in such a way that once they leave the barrel the winery wants them to be buttoned up as airtight as possible. This way the wine maintains its integrity in the bottle until the moment the wine is poured into your glass. Wines that are young and produced to be consumed immediately may do better with a high quality foam rubber or the Stelvin (screw cap) enclosure. Screw caps are actually very good enclosures but are known to become brittle, breakdown and allow oxygen to permeate the wine. The upside of most synthetic enclosures and screw caps are wines cannot be affected by bad cork tainted with TCA. The chemical compound TCA ruins wine and makes it smell like moldy newspaper, wet dog, damp cloth, or damp basement.
Cost is another factor in bottling wine. Quality cork which is hard to get is nearly twice as expensive for wine producers to purchase, 13 cents for cork, versus 7 cents for a synthetic wine enclosure. Whether a winery is producing a weekday, weekend, or special occasion wine also may dictate the type and quality of bottle enclosure that is used. When it comes to corks and injection molded (foam rubber stoppers) there are varying qualities. Wineries use enclosures that are best suited for their wine and their business model in delivering wine to the consumer.
Cork and foam rubber enclosures are not the only methods used in bottling wine. Some of these enclosures may be very expensive for a producer to use. Vino-Seal or Vino-Lok is a plastic or glass enclosure system introduced to the European wine market in 2003. This system hermetically seals the wine bottle which eliminates any ingress of oxygen what so ever which could be problematic. The cost is also prohibitive at 70 cents per enclosure. Consider that a bottle, labeling, and enclosure already cost upwards of $4.00 per bottle of wine. Not great news when a glass corks may add another 70 cents to the equation. The consumer loses this battle when bottling expenses escalate.
The Zork, that’s right, Zork is an enclosure designed for still wines that seals like a screw cap and pops like a cork. It is an interesting design that hales from down under in Australia. It is certainly not sexy looking in any way and based upon what the wine industry clearly understands about the psychology of wine labeling it makes me wonder the viability of this style of enclosure. In other words it doesn’t offer much in the way of sex appeal.
Synthetic enclosures are appealing in an environmental sense in that cork forests may be spared. The processes by which wine bottle corks are produced make them no more biodegradable than the synthetic enclosure products. The carbon footprint left behind through manufacturing the synthetic enclosures; well that is a whole other story for another day.
Enjoy your wine in good health no matter whether you pop the cork or unscrew the bottle, cheers to you.