A Never Ending Story
For more than 20 years, the wine trade has been debating on the best way to close wine bottles in order to avoid so-called cork taint. There is no question that this happens repeatedly, and it spoils the enjoyment of the wine. The unpleasant musty taste is caused by trichloroanisole, a chlorinated, aromatic hydrocarbon.
The following theories on this subject, published in various media, are exaggerated and presumably depend upon who publishes them or on whose behalf they are published. The choices here range from producers of plastic corks, screwtops, glass corks, the natural cork industry to environmentalists.
- Natural cork is affected by trichloroanisole because of improper handling (drying).
- 10 to 20 % of all wines have cork contamination.
- Plastic corks are just as suitable as natural corks for wines which are stored for many years.
- Plastic corks contain "softeners" which can enter the wine if it is stored for a long period of time and which can cause health problems.
- Wine cannot breathe and mature if glass corks are used.
- Environmental associations are afraid that the cork oak forests in Spain, Portugal and Sardinia will disappear.
None of the publications of which I am aware have claimed that the increase in cork contamination is connected with the way in which the cork oak forests are managed. Whereas 40 years ago the bark of the cork oaks was stripped at intervals of between 12 to 14 years, this has now been reduced to between 8 and 9 years with the help of strong artificial fertilization. In order to protect the cork oaks from fungal decay and mold, it is customary today to use fungicides containing chlorophenol, which presumably produces trichloroanisole during its biological decomposition.
After considering the advantages and disadvantages of the individual systems, which wine closures a wine-grower uses and which ones the wine drinker favors still seems to be a question of personal preference today.
If the owners of the cork oak forests were to switch to biological farming methods, they would be able to produce flawless corks once again.
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