Wine has been fascinating and intriguing people across the world for centuries and while a lot of conversations, analysis, and research have been about the wine in the bottle, ever wonder how many conversations or research have been done on the cork that holds the liquid tight in the bottle.
Such conversations are most likely to be fascinating for wine experts, wine producers or winetrepreneurs and wine educators or coaches.
Wine corks come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Corks may all look and feel the same, brown in colour and made in wood, or the simple ones that can be detached with a few twists and turns. However, the fact is that all corks are not as similar as they look, they're all made differently and some of them are not corks at all!!
There is a world of wine corks to be explored out there, and this world is as fascinating and intriguing as the wine itself.
The Natural Cork
This is a single piece of cork that is taken from the bark of the oak tree. It is elastic and can be compressed, when fitted into the wine bottle. The cork assumes the shape of the neck of the bottle, thereby providing an airtight seal to prevent oxygen from going in and spoiling the wine.
Secondly, it is porous, which means it allows minuscule quantities of oxygen, over a long period of time, to enter the bottle, which in turn makes the wine softer, mellower, and thereby open up its aromas and flavours.
Being natural, it is recyclable, biodegradable, and renewable and loved by wineries that are environmentally conscious.
Corks are expensive, and at times almost three times the price of a good screw cap! Which makes sense for the natural corks to be used only on those wines that are expensive, that are premium, and intended for long-term aging
The Agglomerated Corks
These are also called cost-effective corks. If observed closely, an agglomerated cork is not a single piece of cork, it is many pieces and larger pieces of cork, stuck together by some kind of a plant raisin or glue and by using pressure.
The downside of these corks is that if it’s made from very low-quality cork granule material, then it tends to disintegrate, which is not favourable at all, especially if one wants to hold the wine for a longer period, room temperature or in the refrigerator. At such times, the cork granules are likely to drop into the liquid and when poured, they could come along with the wine in the glass. Not a feel-good factor.
Typically, agglomerated corks look like a mushroom, especially the ones that are used for sparkling wines. In an agglomerated cork, while the top part is made of large pieces of cork granules aligned with a glue and compressed with pressure to make it a single piece, the lower part that touches the wine inside, that is in fact two or three or even a single disc of Natural Cork. So, the high-quality material at the bottom is the natural cork and, the fascinating part is that this stopper is shaped cylindrically. So, over a period of time, the part that is compressed inside the bottle remains lean. Whereas, the part that is outside looks like a button mushroom because it expands and when uncorked, assumes the shape of a mushroom even as it was cylindrical in shape when fitted in.
These are manufactured by companies that produce inexpensive wines, and are keen to keep costs under control.
Plastic corks are hard, lack the elasticity, the porosity, and once uncorked, it is best to finish the bottle of wine, as these corks are a challenge to be fitted back in.
However, the bright side of plastic corks is that they come in a variety of attractive colours and that is fun.
The next time you're uncorking a bottle of wine, don't just pay attention to the wine inside the bottle, but also, take a moment to look at what is the type of cork that has been used to close the wine bottle with and that in itself should give you lots of clues and thoughts about what type of, what style of wine it's got to be.
Is it meant for long-term aging, or is it meant for early drinking? That's a perfect clue for you, unless it's a piece of natural cork and if it's any of those others like an agglomerated cork, chances are you need to drink it slightly earlier than later.
Originally published May 10, 2022