As someone who routinely loses wallets, phones, sunglasses, and has even lost sight of his own (admittedly very small) child on occasion, my wife finds it alternately absurd and ironic that I should choose a wine closure that necessitates a corkscrew — yet another item that eludes me at vital moments.
I admit it does seem absurd. With all the advances in screw cap closures and with New Zealand wineries adopting the screw cap with a zealousness bordering on fanatical, one could be forgiven for believing that the ship has well and truly sailed for wine corks.
But in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Depending on which publication you read 18.5 – 40 billion bottles of wine are produced each year. Of those, over half are still sealed with corks. It’s a fact made more astonishing when you consider that around six percent of wines sealed with natural corks are likely to be faulty – three percent from cork taint and two to three percent from oxidation, due to the poor elasticity of natural cork (and subsequent oxygen ingress). That’s between 720 million and 1.4 billion bottles of faulty wine on the market.
New Zealand winemakers shake their heads in bemusement. ‘Why on earth risk the quality of the wine by using a cork?’ they beseech. And they have a point.
The benefits of screw caps are well documented. As well as eliminating cork taint and other oxidation faults that can destroy wine quality (very important to the producer and the retailer), from a consumer perspective the most obvious benefit of the screw cap is convenience.
But for me, the screw cap feels a little like pouring your heart and soul into an incredible feast, only to dump it on the table with a lacklustre ‘help yourselves.’ Where is the tradition? The celebration? The sense of occasion?
When I became acquainted with the cork DIAM (based on the French for diamond) it was clear where my closure loyalties would lie. Far from the ‘cork and hope’ closures of old, DIAM is an agglomeration of natural cork that that has been subjected to a process of granulation and treatment to extract micro-organisms and taint precursors to eliminate any chance of cork taint. The resulting cork can be customised to different permeability, so that the oxidation factor is also eliminated. At last, the first ‘technical’ natural cork.
While there is absolutely a place for practicality over procedure, convenience over custom, in my personal opinion, it is not in the realm of fine wine closures.
The other factor to consider is the ecological contribution of cork. For example, Portugal grows nearly a third of the world’s 2.2 million hectares of cork forests. Of that, 100,000 hectares are grown exclusively for cork stopper production. These forests are estimated to off-set 10 million tonnes of CO2 every year and without them the area would be reduced to a virtual desert – both ecologically and economically. As someone who racks up thousands of miles travelling for work each year, this is a consideration in my choice of closure – if not the principal one.
My wife has finally accepted my refusal to give up corks, mainly because she has now introduced me to the latest technology in Bluetooth trackers. To avoid my regular upending of kitchen drawers and muttering of profanities, I will attach a tile to the one and only corkscrew I haven’t lost, so that we can enjoy the satisfying ‘squeak’ and ‘pop’ of a fresh bottle of wine.
I think that’s a fine compromise.