July 31, 2004
Screw Caps versus Corks.
I'm not sure I should be diasgreeing with Professor Bainbridge on the subject of screw tops for decent wines. He quite obviously knows more about the good stuff than I ever will. However, something further for him to think about when considering the question.
The use of cork to seal wine bottles maintains, is in fact the very reason for the existence of, the greatest bird life refuge in Europe. Cork, as most know, comes from the cork oak. However, what is less known is that the tree is not cut down to provide it. The tree actually looks like a scrub oak (for those in S California like the Professor: as a rough idea of the looks of the countryside think the area south of Santa Maria, down nearly to Santa Ynez, rolling grassland with a sprinkling of shortish oak trees.) and has a thick bark. That bark is the cork, and it is harvested a piece at a time over about 5 years, by which time it has regenerated. The grassland underneath is used to raise sheep and goats and ploughed once every seven or eight years for a wheat crop.
The area from Lisobon south and east all the way to Seville and Gibraltar supports this form of agriculture. A side effect is that it is also the home to and stop off point for the largest selection of birds in Europe. So much so that Simon Barnes (a journalist on The Times and avid twitcher) runs a campaign to stop people buying wines with a crew top, as the decline in the cork market will threaten this biosphere.
This doesn't help much for those people who like to be certain that their wine is not corked. The solution to that is coming: a microwave process to kill the bacteria that cause it is under development.
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I seem to recall vaguely that there is in fact excessive demand for cork right now which is causing problems. Some screw-caps seem like a decent idea. I also note that here in France some of the cheaper wines are using some sort of plastic cork lookalike which seems pretty effective and just about passes the snob test in that you have to look closely to realise that is isn't actually cork.
Posted by: Dirty Dingus | Aug 2, 2004 11:13:40 AM