Thursday, July 14, 2011
Should natural winemakers use cork?
I’ve just come back from a cork trip to Portugal which has got me thinking (as it was obviously intended to do). I’ll be writing it up for the Guardian’s magazine Guardian Green but the question that really exercised me in relation to this blog is what you should do if you call yourself a natural winemaker? Should you use cork?
It is after all a more natural material than plastic or aluminium from which screwcaps are made. No tree has to be cut down to supply it - in fact it preserves vast acres of forests that might otherwise be grubbed up for building development.
The cork producers, including the giant Amorim whose plants and processes dominated our visit, have obviously done a great deal to improve the quality of cork over the last few years and claim that it’s much more reliable. I’ve yet to check out the end users’ views on this but my own impression is that I come across fewer corked bottles than I did 5 years ago. Yet many producers, particularly of aromatic white wines have switched to screwcaps in that period.
I would say the majority of natural wines I open do have cork for a closure, despite low levels or no added sulphur. The Amorim research team were suggesting that wines that were low in SO2 would keep less well under synthetic corks but I don't have enough of a scientific background to know if that's likely to be the case. Or whether it applies to screwcaps. They also seemed to be suggesting that cork could release beneficial polyphenols into the wine. (But as a layman I ask myself if they can release polyphenols, why not TCA?)
So over to you. What do you use and why? Do you have faith in cork or mainly use it because it’s ‘green’? Or do you think it’s too high a risk?
Incidentally one thing I was really impressed by - effective or not - was how stunning the cork bark looks at various stages of processing. Take a look at my Flickr stream here.