Last week Thoroughly Wine Know Thursday began this three-part series on Bottle Stoppers. Last week, Part I, it was all about the screw cap. For Part II of this series, we will discuss the world’s most popular material for stopping that wine from pouring right out of them bottles: The Cork.
So what exactly is cork? This fine material is the bark of the cork oak tree and is native to Portugal and Spain. (It’s also found in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, but the majority of corks used in the U.S. originate from Portuguese trees. Look how pretty these cork oaks are!
Are you ready for some cork fun facts? Well get this… (The Wine Bible says it so well I just had to quote it all…)
“A 1-inch cube [of cork] contains roughly 200 million fourteen-sided cells filled with air.”
“…cork is four times lighter than water, yet highly elastic, capable of snapping back to its original shape after withstanding 14,000 pounds of pressure per cubic inch.”
“Cork is impervious to air, almost impermeable by water, difficult to burn, resistant to temperature changes and vibration, does not rot, and has the ability to mold itself to the countour of the container it is put into (such as the neck of a wine bottle).”
Why isn’t everything made out of cork!?!? Seriously. I had no idea that cork is so amazing!
Wine Bottle Corks
As discussed last week with regard to the screw cap, cork allows a teeny-tiny bit of oxygen through to the wine, which is important in the “bottle aging” process for many wines. (Alternatively, screw caps keep any oxygen from mixing with the wine once bottled.) For those wines that do require some “bottle aging” (meaning, the wine flavor matures while the wine is in the bottle), the cork is important. But for most of us Winos (and even Wine Knows) the difference in a regular ol’ bottle of wine is not going to be noticeable.
Snobby Cork Practices
Here’s another random tidbit of cork knowledge… You know how in movies and fancy restaurants of the olden days how you can envision some man ordering a bottle of wine while wearing a tuxedo… and when the waiter opens to bottle, the man in the tux sniffs the cork? Well, why is that? What can anyone tell from the smell of the cork?! The answer is: nothing. But back in the day – as in days about 300 years ago – sneaky restaurant owners would take (empty) fancy bottles of wine and pour cheap wine in them. Then they’d serve the cheap wine and make a few extra bucks with their trickery. So wineries began to brand their corks to give the Winos confidence that they were drinking the wine they intended to drink. The practices was for the waiter to put the cork on the table so that the patron could see the cork matched the bottle’s label. The patron may decide to feel the cork to see if it was moist, which is an indication that the wine had been properly stored on its side (as we learned in the Wine Storage post!). I don’t know where the smelling of the cork thing comes into play… but I swear that’s what the snobby practice is. (Right?!)
Finally, to close out, I came across this little blog post from Dr. Vino – Cork Dork: Ten cool things to do with leftover wine corks. It’s creative and Dr.Vino has a nice blog!