Cork – how it helps bring out the best in your wine
01 January 1970
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I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams for the Old Mutual Live Wine Edition and I love my wine. A bottle of Bouchard Finlayson Chardonnay has been stored in my wine cupboard for 10 years. When I opened it I nearly wept because the cork was sodden and the wine was undrinkable.
More and more South African wines are being made to lay down, so what should we be looking for when we store a bottle of wine? I went to the expert Joaquim Sá, the Managing Director of Amorim Cork SA to get the pros, the cons, and the reasons for a cork that just didn’t last the distance.
Joaquim, really, really nice speaking to you, I was trying to tell you the other day, I opened a bottle of wine and I had it lying in a cupboard, perfectly kept I think, without huge variation in temperature. It was a Chardonnay and it was 10 years old and when I opened it the cork was just wet all the way through. It hadn’t seeped, it was just wet all the way through.
Why a cork may end up sodden
Now more and more South African wines, the winemakers are saying yes, you can put it down for five years, you can put it down for 15 years and whatever. What might have happened to that bottle of wine with me?
Joaquim Sá: I mean you know there could be a number of reasons. It could be the cork, it could be the bottle shape of the neck, it could be the storage prior to your purchase. So there could be a number of conditions. You must understand that cork has elastic properties and that are supposed to last for at least 25 years. So there could be a multitude of factors, which not all is attributed only to the cork as a fault.
JCW: I understand that but the majority of people who drink wine and who think okay well I am going to save this for three years and I will only drink it when I’m desperate and whatever. They are going to be storing it, not in you know restaurant fridges and things like that but just in a normal home environment. What should people be looking for in order to maximise that storage?
How best to store your wine
JS: Yes, you know being or staying away from the sunlight is extremely important because the sun rays will have an impact on the quality of the wine, so it will slowly deteriorate it. But above all wine should be kept on a temperature around between 16-18 degrees. As I said, away from the sun and the bottle laid down because you want to keep the cork moist which is ideal for the cork to last longer and not shrink.
JCW: So really, if I was storing it in a kitchen, that is not an optimum place really to store your wine. It should be maybe in a cupboard in a passage for instance.
JS: Exactly, I mean in an area where you have a constant cold, not cold but you know temperature around 16-18 degrees. Because wine is an actual product, so wine will expand if subject to temperature and it’s supposed to expand nearly 1mm with every two centigrade.
Which means if you have the wine stored at 18 and suddenly it goes to 25 that raised temperature where the wine is stored, the wine will expand and will try to find room to expand. So often it pushes through the cork and that’s when it makes the cork wet and over time it can make the cork rot.
JCW: That’s really what you’re saying happened to my wine because it did, it seeped.
JS: No, it could be. That’s the most common case. I mean it doesn’t happen only with cork, it happens with any other closure. You know storage, it’s paramount. It has paramount importance if you really want to keep your wine for a long time.
Why is Portugal the cork capital of the world?
JCW: Why does Portugal supply the best corks in the world, or does it?
JS: All right, yes because the cork tree is indigenous to the Mediterranean Basin. So if you look in the map it’s south of Europe; Portugal, Spain, a little bit in France, and Italy. Then you’d look into the North of Africa; like Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. So Portugal has about 80% of the plantations but exports nearly 50% of the cork production. Why, because you know the industrialization of cork is directly linked with the port wine-making.
JCW: Sure, does Portuguese cork have differences from other Mediterranean countries? I mean possibly the cork is denser, tighter?
JS: Yes, you see there is. The soil is extremely important. The rainfall is also important because you don’t want cork that grows too fast otherwise it will be too porous. So cork, just to give you an idea, we can’t chop the tree. So don’t chop down the trees, we strip the bark from the tree once the tree is 25 years old.
Then after the first harvest we do the harvest every nine years. So nine years is the ideal period for the cork to grow and to be thick enough for us to produce. To punch corks out of the bark. Portugal presents the best conditions for that cork to grow.
The history of using a cork for wine bottles
JCW: Joaquim, I don’t know whether Portugal was lucky enough to be invaded by the Romans because you know, half of the wine in Europe was planted by them at one stage or another. Do we know historically when cork was first used to stop the bottles of wine coming out of Portugal?
JS: Yes, well there is traces of the Romans using cork or bunks to seal at that stage, the amphorae. But the industrialisation of cork really started when Dom Pérignon in the 17th Century used cork instead of wooden bunks to achieve the second fermentation of wine in a bottle. So we can say that it was as from the 17th Century that there was a revolution in the use of cork in the closure of wine.
JCW: Well what a wonderful quote to be able to use to people over the dinner table. Because I didn’t know that and it’s absolutely fantastic. Joaquim, really, really enjoyed talking to you. Thank you so much.
JS: Thank you, thank you for your call.
JCW: Well I hope that helps when you decide to store a bottle of wine for any length of time. Vibrations are bad for the wine, ditto sunlight, ditto huge variations in temperature. The kitchen sucks when it comes to wine storage for any length of time. I genuinely don’t know what you do when we have a summer with the temperatures we’ve just had, give up I guess.
All I know is that one of the most wonderful sounds in the world is that of a cork being withdrawn from the neck of a bottle of fabulous wine. Here’s to that wonderful drink. Thanks for listening to this episode of Old Mutual Live Wine Edition. If you’d like to get in touch with comments, questions, or suggestions you can email me at email@example.com.