Guy Downes
March 11, 2011 | Wine | Guy Downes

All about Corks

Corks have been an integral part of the wine business for decades, and while it's true that there is a real developing trend towards screw caps, I think we can all agree corks aren't going away just yet. 

OK so we admit it, we like corks! They are a part of the tradition, romance and ceremony around opening a much anticipated bottle of wine. When you take your time to get the corkscrew in the cork just right, and pull it out creating that popping noise known the world over, it's truly a moment of joy. 

Of course corks come with their own set of challenges (you may have heard the term 'corked' before!) when an unwanted musty smell can spoil a wine. Fortunately this is the exception rather than the rule as cork is composed of suberin, a hydrophobic substance, used because of its impermeability and elasticity. Since the mid 1990s some winemakers have switched to alternatives such as synthetic corks or screw caps but in the study "Analysis of the life cycle of Cork, Aluminum and Plastic Wine Closures," commissioned by cork manufacturer Amorim that was released in 2008, it was concluded that cork is the most environmentally responsible stopper, in a one-year life cycle analysis comparison with the plastic stoppers and aluminum screw caps.

Whether you're drinking a wine that has a natural or synthetic cork, a good quality corkscrew is absolutely essential. Maybe you've used a poor one in the past, seen how it can tear the middle out of the cork and hurt your hand. A good corkscrew will have a comfortable grip, use counter pressure against the rim of the bottle and the screw will have an open spiral with a clear line of sight up the middle, to grip as much cork as possible. No doubt you will have seen the most common of all corkscrews, the 'waiter's friend', which despite all the fancy expensive alternatives on the market is often the most reliable (hence it's name!).

A good tip when preparing to remove a wine cork is to remove the capsule.  When you have invested in a good quality bottle of wine and especially if you're pouring for friends, you don't want the sight of a ragged-edge capsule where the cork has been pulled through. The simple solution here is to use the small knife on your 'waiter's friend' and cut a circle just below the ridge on the neck of the bottle and remove.

(Sources: WSJWine & Flickr)


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