The sound of a cork popping off a bottle of wine is one that we all closely associate with fond memories and celebrations. Cork has been used to make a wide variety of products since Ancient Greece. Though the tradition of sealing wine with it only dates back to somewhere around the seventeenth century. Until then, glass stoppers were used to keep the wine fresh, but they fell out of favor due to the incompatible design of bottles at the time.
Today, over 13 billion tons of cork is produced each year. Despite being a resource that is completely renewable and does not harm the environment, corks are seeing a resurgence due to new production techniques that minimize the spoilage corks once exposed to the wine too. In this article, we’ll discuss everything there is to know about corks. This includes why we use them, what they are made of, and how exactly they are derived from the bark of a tree to go on wine bottles.
Why Do We Use Corks to Seal Wine Bottles?
Besides shaping the way we perceive the experience of drinking wine, using corks to seal your wine bottles comes with several other benefits. Good quality corks let in just enough oxygen to help wine mature in the cellar and prevent contamination of the drink from a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA). This compound adds some fairly unpleasant aromas to your wine, along with lending it wet cardboard-like the taste.
Cork contamination was a key reason why they fell out of favor for a sizable period around the turn of the century. Screw caps and glass stoppers rose in popularity due to their efficiency in preventing wastage. However, new production techniques have halted the buildup of TCA in corked wines, resulting in a resurgence of the product. Besides screw caps, corks are the only other sealant that has been tested for its effects on wine stored for long periods of time. This makes it one of the few options at a winemaker’s disposal for their pristine drinks that are meant to evolve. Check out “Corks vs Screw Caps: What’s the Difference?” to see how different ways to seal your bottle of wine affect the contents as well.
Corks are also incredibly eco-friendly. A cork tree has a lifespan of around 250 years and can yield at least 12 harvests in its lifetime. The process of stripping its bark in no way harms the tree since this layer regenerates in due time. Unused corks can also be recycled to be utilized in other forms, such as flooring, etc.
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All You Need to Know About How Corks Are Made
Corks are derived from two species of trees: 1) Quercus suber, and 2) Quercus occidentalis. An overwhelming majority of these trees are grown in the Mediterranean region, primarily including countries like Portugal, France, and Spain. Portugal is currently the world leader in cork production, supplying almost half of all the stock available on earth.
The process of growing a cork oak tree from the ground up, harvesting the bark, and processing it for commercial use is a process that takes several decades. It takes a minimum of twenty-five years to produce cork bark that is thick enough. But this cork is often not of good enough quality to produce the best stoppers. Cork regenerates, and that can take another season of harvest or two (one lasts around nine to twelve years). However, once you have let your cork tree grow for the requisite time, here are the next steps in the process:
The bark of cork trees is cut into planks. These planks are wet and need to be cured to rid them of moisture. This cork is then either rested on an upright surface or placed lying down on a clean material and left out in the open for anywhere between a few weeks, to six months.
Once this is done, the cork is boiled in water to remove further impurities, dirt, tannins, etc. Cork is lighter than water, however, and tends to float. To solve this problem, weights are placed over these planks to help them submerge for around an hour. After this step, the outer layer of these planks is shed. They are left to cure and dry for a few more weeks.
The planks are trimmed again and are judged for thickness and quality. The good ones are used to make corks for good quality wine. While the rest is processed to make other, inferior types of cork.
Thank you for reading with us today! Let us know in the comments below if you have a collection of corks at home. Be sure to also check out other helpful tips for your at-home wine tips like “How to Store Wine After Opening“.
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Bottoms up! We’ll uncork ya later!! 🍷