If you enjoy a glass of wine, then this blog post is certainly for you. I’m talking about corks. That small plug that seals the wine until you can resist it no longer and reach for that favourite item in the drawer, the corkscrew. I’m sure you would rather be drinking the wine than reading about the cork, however if you’d like to combine the two, I can wait right here until you return with your glass.
Back with me? Cork is a fascinating subject and when you consider the impact wine corks have had on humanity over the years, it’s worth looking at. And in today’s world, the argument. Which is better, a cork or a screw top wine?
It was only while chatting recently that I realised that wine corks are one of those many things we take for granted in our daily, wine drinking, lives. Until they’re gone, of course. There was a time when screw top wine bottles were viewed with suspicion and disgust by any one other than a University student on a quest for the very cheapest possible sweet white. Screw tops are for lemonade, not wine.
Arrive at a party with screw top wine in some circles and you may as well turn up in July wearing your Christmas jumper. That bad.
However, things have changed in recent years and it’s true to say that screw top wine is now accepted most places, even in the deepest, most southern parts of sunny France, where is is perfectly OK to decant wine from a wood barrel into a plastic bottle for a few Euros a litre. But a screw top wine bottle? Don’t go there.
So before I risk my neck and suggest which is the best way to seal your wine bottle, it may be worth taking a look at just why we came to be using cork to store wine.
A (Very) Brief History of Wine Storage…
It seems that if Google is your friend, the history of widespread wine corks goes back to around the late 1600’s. Before that, a variety of methods were used, from clay and wax to latterly, glass stoppers. Glass on glass as a sealing mechanism has it’s problems. In the long term, it’s not really air tight in a controllable way.
And if left a while, the glass stopper can be hard to remove without breaking the bottle. Have you ever tried to separate two wet glass tumblers?
There you go.
So when the more pliable cork came to be used, two things happened. Firstly, drinkers no longer had to pick broken glass out of their wine.
And secondly, arguably more importantly, the more controlled air tight seal meant that for the first time, wine could age and improve in the bottle. Oxygen was introduced in a more controlled way. So wine corks were, in effect, the birth of the wine vintage system we know today. Cool right?
So, to Screw Top Wine…
It seems that screw top wine bottles began to be used in Australia and New Zealand in the 1970’s. That figures, I always thought they weren’t to be trusted. ? And yes, for many applications screw top wines are a great invention. If you’re out on a picnic and driving, you can secure a screw top without worrying about whether it will leak.
Bought a bottle of wine on the spur of the moment to have with that picnic? Who’s got the corkscrew then? Not a problem. Except that anyone who plans a picnic without a corkscrew on board really needs to get their act together.
Also, it is not yet fully understood how screw top wine will age over time. You see, the cork isn’t completely air tight. It allows a small amount of oxygen into the wine over time, which is what creates the ageing process. And you simply don’t get that with screw tops.
My own view on ageing wine is, to be honest, a little impatient.
I overhead someone saying that they had bought some great wine that, in around five years time, will be really great. My view? I know it’s immature. Why not simply go and buy a bottle of wine that’s already five years older and drink it right now? Same effect, without the waiting.
However, while screw tops have their place I am not buying into it wholesale.
My Views? Corks are better.
Even if it makes absolutely no difference at all to the taste of wine, I prefer cork. Two reasons. Here’s why.
They create great memories. I have some friends who have been together a long time. Over the years, they have seen many ups and downs, as anyone does in life. In a large jar at home, there is a pile of corks all sitting together.
Nothing new, I guess. The texture of cork makes a nice little display. However, these corks all have a meaning. Written on each one is a date and a note. Every time something really notable and eventful happens in their life, they celebrate. It may be champagne or it may be a simple bottle of local red wine (they live in France). Then they write the date and a note for the reason for the celebration. Whenever they are reminiscing together, emptying out the collection of corks is a wonderful way to bring back memories of good times.
The Sound. Someone else I know mentioned one very vital thing. The sound. And for me this is the thing that swings it. Uncorking wine makes you pause for a moment and there’s a very small sense of occasion to opening it.
Whether you’re using a good quality corkscrew to cut foil, twist the screw down into it and pivot the cork out.
Or whether you’re removing foil from an icy cold bottle of champagne, twisting the wire free, then gripping the cork and twisting. It’s about the sound.
The sound of cork coming clear of a wine bottle is a signal for celebration, for relaxation and for life. The pop of champagne corks followed by the sigh at the bubbles rise? Yeah, you’re never, ever going to get that from a screw top.
That sound is unique.
Cork wins. Every time.