Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cork Calling Orson - All about corks

Through the years, the blogmasters have discussed the pros and cons of various methods to cap wine bottles with Virginia winemakers. We've compiled our notes into one brief summary post to explain the differences and mention the advantages and disadvantages.

Casual and serious wine drinkers have their preferences,and so do the winemakers. The answers to our questions were a bit surprising. To cork, or to screwtop, boils down to your drinking habits. A glimpse of the five most popular types of wine cappers:

Natural Cork
The preferred method of most wineries in the state, as well as the world. But as we've discovered, traditional cork doesn't always provide the best seal. And as natural cork can be unpredictable, the cork could crumble while opening the wine. Some have no problem with bits of cork floating in their wine glass (if you're drunk, who cares anyway?) But others may toss their wine out at the very sight of this. Natural cork, being natural and all, is subject to bacteria contamination, which according to some winery owners and wine fans, is just part of the "adventure of wine enthusiasm."

Natural cork costs the most of all wine bottle toppers, but they are naturally decomposing, therefore good for the environment. Better yet, save them to create a cool wine cork corkboard (you can buy the kits at Total Wine).

There are some wineries that feel natural cork is the one and only way to seal a bottle. Fox Meadow Winery near Front Royal swears by the romantic appeal of natural cork and will always use them.

Agglomerated Cork
Have you ever opened a wine bottle that appears to have a natural cork, only to realize it's some sort of "super packed" cork? Not very porous, and therefore useless for your cool wine cork corkboard? These are agglomerated corks, which are formed from granulated natural corks. They are less expensive than pure natural corks, they can provide a more consistent seal, and they repel bacteria more than their natural counterparts. But drawbacks are there: More difficult to open with a basic corkscrew, and they will not decompose like natural corks. Ox-Eye Vineyards in downtown Staunton works with agglomerated corks.

Synthetic Cork
These are those "foamy" corks that can come in different colors. They are inexpensive to produce, make that "popping" sound, and totally repel bacteria. cork "romance," and unless they are returned to the winery, they cannot be recycled. And if not properly capped on the bottle, air could filter through the synthetic cork after a few months (or even weeks). Still, many wineries in Virginia favor the synthetic cork, especially mass producers like Horton.

Screw Tops
The most hated method of wine bottle capping according to many fellow blogmasters, several Virginia wineries, and the diehard wine aficionado. Many green wineries in the state swear by screw tops, to reduce the demand from natural cork trees. The problem of course is metal cannot be absorbed by nature, so these wineries presume their guests will recycle. If you've been to Wolf Trap with your six pack of mini wine bottles from Barefoot or (your choice of cheap mass produced 7-11 wine), you know the advantage of screw top wine. Forget about aging wine on your rack, forget about a quality seal, forget about wine opening romance - quantity over quality. And sometimes, that's totally fine.

Many mass producers in Virginia offer the same wine in cork or screw top bottles (depending on your drinking habits). White Hall Vineyards near Charlottesville is just one example.

We came across zorks at Byrd Cellars recently and were intrigued - this is a plastic combination of synthetic and screw top. Just as easy to open as a screw top, but with a more reliable seal. The biggest benefit of zorks are their natural-cork like ability to reseal. Screw tops do not allow for a good reseal, if you can't finish the bottle. For this reason, zorks are used in some countries for sparkling wines.

Here is a short video of a discussion with the winemaker at 8 Chains North Winery near Purcellville, explaining the wine sealing process:

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