Paying for the sound of popping the cork
B.C. (Before Cork)
The use of cork as a bottle stopper can be traced all the way back to Greek and Roman times. However, it was far from first choice. A coating of pitch or gypsum over the opening of a vessel or a film of olive oil floating on the surface of the wine were far preferred.
By the time the Middle Ages rolled around cork was all but forgotten. People then used a cloth or leather to seal wine bottles. The
Renaissance man found a lot of inspiration from ancient ways and using cork as a closure was no exception. Once again, it wasn’t thought most fitting as a single defect could spoil the wine. Glass stoppers, each one made to fit a particular bottle, were in fashion. They were quite problematic themselves – they were almost impossible to remove without breaking the bottle. That was also the reason for their abandonment.
Cork was the next best thing.
The Beginning of a New Age
Cork did turn out to prevent oxygen from spoiling the wine. In fact, it was better and cheaper than all previous closures. It’s one of the reasons wine trade became global and that people realized aged wine far surpassed young wine.
That was over 300 years ago.
Nobody’s perfect. Well, neither is cork.
Have you heard of TCA? It’s the chemical compound that causes cork taint in wines. It has anunpleasant taste and an even worse smell (think moldy, old newspapers or damp cardboard). It affects 1-2% of corks today. This is why restaurants let you taste the wine before pouring – to let you judge if the wine is tainted.
Another problem is that natural cork isn’t consistent when it comes to oxygen transmission. That’s a cause for a lot of variables in taste and quality. This is the reason why winemakers have slowly moved on to synthetic corks and screws, which are way more predictable and have seen many positive developments over the past 20 years.
Technology has been on our side when it comes to wine – it has helped makers improve their technique and consistently provide us with great produce. We’ve made a lot of progress over the last 100 years.
The truth is that famous French Cellars are producing nowadays the same wines with cork top and with screw top. This is only to make some of the old clients happy.
It is another way of keeping the myth and mystery alive and connoisseurs can pay lots more for just having the special sound of popping the cork.
So all I want to say is: Thank you, Cork, for everything, but maybe it’s time we moved onto something new and preserve the taste rather than the myth!