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Mediterranean: Natural cork

Mediterranean: Natural cork
Mediterranean cork forests are a rich source of biodiversity, do a sterling job of absorbing Co2 levels and allow wine the freedom to breathe long after bottling.
 
The prolific march of the screw-cap has carried on apace, thanks in no small part to mass media hype. Great for convenience they may be, but at what cost to the drinking experience? Traditionalists, meanwhile, are fighting their corner, rejecting artificial closures, resulting in a timely push for the return to use of all-natural cork.
 
The consistency offered by screw-caps and artificial stoppers is dear to the heart of certain winemakers seeking a standard level of quality assurance- but all too often, this means uniformly bland. Screw-caps seal a wine too tightly, diminishing flavours, whilst artificial stoppers have been cited as the cause of oxidation. Cork, on the other hand, allows wine the freedom to breathe as a living entity, maturing and developing long after bottling.
 
As with artisan cheese or bread, the use of natural cork may yield a slightly more variable product but, surely, this is part of its beauty, and down to the skill of the winemaker. The nuances of a particular vintage, the ability to taste the terroir and climate, feeling tangibly close to the story behind the liquid in the glass; these are the true pleasures involved in wine appreciation.
 
The use of cork as a sealant is rooted in history, with the first known instances in Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece. The innovation seriously took hold after 1680, when the French Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon successfully trialled it as a replacement for the wood-and-hemp bungs in his Champagne bottles. With the finest Champagne and wine houses sticking with the product for so long, it follows that cork is the superior choice.
 
Aside from improving the quality of the
Mediterranean: Natural cork
wine, natural cork has the advantage of being completely sustainable, renewable and recyclable. Mediterranean cork forests do a sterling job of absorbing CO2- levels. Weight for weight, the production of artificial closures guzzles five times the energy, with the end product destined to languish in landfill.
 
The cork forests are a rich source of biodiversity, supporting over 150 animal and 135 plant species. Yet estimates suggest, with no action taken, 75% of the forests could be lost within the next 15 years. And, with 70% of cork revenue generated by wine stoppers, the 100,000 skilled workers and rural communities reliant upon the industry would be further casualties.
 
Far from harming the forests, the production of natural cork is an eco-friendly system. Barks are harvested initially once the tree is 25 years old, and then only every 9 years thereafter, for up to 200 years. The production's Forest Stewardship Council accreditation attests to the sustainability of the scheme, whereby even the waste is re-used.
 
Any wine drinker will be aware of rumbles of dissent in the industry from cork's decriers. Talk of 'corked' wine and the troublesome effect of TCA (trichloroanisole) have, in the past, caused consumers to be wary of natural cork- and, on occasion, with good reason. It's never pleasant to open a beloved bottle to the 'damp forest floor' olfactory assault yielded by so-called 'cork taint'.
 
Yet new research suggests a dramatic decline in cork-related wine faults- with a sole bottle in a 7,000-strong sample falling victim to a TCA taint, and worldwide assent from noted oenophiles. The findings are consistent with a seven year long decline, and further support the overwhelming evidence that serious wine drinkers should choose natural cork, and rest assured they're choosing a quality product.
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16 November 2010
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