Cork – Environmentally Friendly But Losing Market Share?


Anyone who has been drinking wine over the past decade has noticed a distinct trend away from natural cork to synthetic cork and screw top caps. For most, it may just be a passing interest; however there are a couple of driving forces surrounding the change.

Many value-priced wines, especially from the New World, but increasingly from Europe as well, are now coming complete with screw tops or synthetic cork. Why the change? Some people think that the change was due to cork not being environmentally friendly. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Cork is a 100% renewable and sustainable resource and when used in construction actually qualifies for LEED credits. Cork is the bark of the Quercus suber oak tree, which is native to the Mediterranean. It grows an extremely thick bark (used by the tree as protection from fire) which is stripped for use 100% by hand, no machines used. The cork is then left to sit in the open air for six months, transported to the cork factory, washed and then used to make wine stoppers or for modern, environmentally friendly flooring. The bark grows back over about 10 years and the tree can live for over 200 years. The trees are recognized as providing a unique ecosystem in semi-arid conditions and are actually protected by law in Portgual which is the world leader in cork production.

Surprisingly, the move to screw caps and synthetic caps is actually considered by some groups, like the WWF as being environmentally harmful to the extent that if there is no further need for cork for wine stoppers or flooring solutions, the extensive cork farming operations would become uneconomic and the trees would be neglected.

While there absolutely is a place for screw tops within the wine industry, especially for wines which should be enjoyed over the next couple of years, it is an interesting dynamic to consider that the switch away from a “consumable” resource could actually negatively impact the tree’s ecosystem.

One of the disadvantages of cork versus the screw top is that cork stoppers are more time consuming when manufacturing bottles of wine. For example, production of 5,000 bottles/hour is possible with cork versus 25,000 bottles/hour with screw tops. Cheaper production means lower cost to the wineries which means more value passed onto the consumer. Interestingly, cork producers who were slow to respond to the threat of alternative closures are already looking at registering natural cork within the European Community to establish its environmental benefits which would allow wineries to market that point, much like they have done with organic wine processes.

Top 10 Tips for choosing wine at dinner

enjoy wine while dinning

Purchasing wine in a liquor store and ordering wine at a restaurant can be difficult. We at the WineCollective have taken strides to make the purchasing of wine in a wine boutique a uniquely educational and interesting experience, however there is still that tricky element of ordering wine at a restaurant. Inspired by a post at the Chicago Tribune and nudged by Bill Daley (@BillDaley) on Twitter (follow us @WineCollective) we decided to put together a list of some of our suggestions to make wine selection in a restaurant easier and more enjoyable so you can maximize your dining experience!

Wine lists vary, some may have almost no information other than the name of the producer, country of origin, varietal and vintage. We have even seen lists which lacked some of that basic information! But armed with a few tips and a little bit of pre-planning you can pick gems out of even the most obtuse wine list.

Top 10 Tips for choosing wine at dinner

1. Check your glassware. Glassware is crucial for the enjoyment of a fine wine. Smell the glass even. Does it smell like dog? Don't be afraid to ask for a new set. If necessary, ask for proper type of glassware, something that will do justice to the bouquet of the wine. You can't smell anything from a short wine glass.

2. If you're ordering a red wine, ask the sommelier (or your server) if it should be decanted. We are always surprised at how few restaurants bother with decanting. Many red wines will perform better after being aired out. Feel free to let the wine unwind in your glass before enjoying.

3. Choose a wine to cater to your guest's likes and dislikes, but be flexible with food pairings. Some people may enjoy red while others white. One person is having fish, and the other pork? Try a light bodied Pinot Noir as a compromise. Don't be afraid to experiment with food pairings.

4. Check your phone if you are really unsure. There are lots of apps out there to help you make the decision on what wine to pick with your dinner. Remember price does not equal value.

5. Scan the bar for bottles that have corks in them. Are there dozens of bottles open? How long have they been open for? Ask these questions before ordering wine by the glass. Also, don't be afraid to send something back if it tastes dead.

6. Pay close attention to the serving process. How did they cut the label of the wine? It should be in the middle of the hump, not right on the rim. Did they serve your guest after they gave you a tasting? Common courtesy. Experiencing wine is all in the details. If the restaurant takes pride in their food, they should balance that with proper wine knowledge.

7. Before twirling the wine in your glass take a deep sniff. Smell the wine while it is still. You have a much better chance to pick out any faults before you mask it with some twirling.

8. Sniff, twirl, sniff, taste, aerate. Repeat as much as necessary. Especially helpful if the restaurant hasn't supplied a decanter (why are you there again?).

9. Is the wine being served at the right temperature? Most red wines will actually perform better slightly cooled. Don't even get us started with Pinot Noirs at room temperature, bleach!

10. Corkage. Many restaurants now allow you to bring your own bottles of wine to accompany dinner. This is great, but make sure to check before hand on how much they are charging you. I'm constantly stunned at fees which are over $20 which can be larger than the mark-up on the restaurant provided wine.

Wine Tasting Etiquette

Image courtesy of Christina Snyder via Flickr

After attending a tasting at The Cellar recently, I though it might be relevant to bring up a few points around tasting etiquette. These aren't hard and fast rules, but are points of consideration if you are planning on attending a sit down tasting or wine appreciation event.

1. Avoid wearing perfume or cologne – This is enemy #1 as the additions of unnecessary fragrances can overload olfactory receptors. Let the wine be the star, not your latest designer fragrance.

2. Sample, don't shoot – Wine is something that should be appreciated and taking your sample and hammering it back isn't going to give you much (other than probably a hangover). In a world that is busy and full of distractions, this is an opportunity to expand your senses. Take your time, interact with the wine and get to know it.

3. Spitting is ok – When appreciating wine, discarding the sample into spit bucket is ok. If you have to drive, do this. If you are a host, provide a spit bucket to your guests. It's the responsible thing to do.

4. If you drink, don't drive – This one should go without saying but if you do decide to drink, don't drive. Take a cab, call a designated driver service or take transit. What ever method suits you, choose it as driving under the influence is a risk not worth taking.

These are just a few tips to help you enjoy your next wine tasting. If any of the readers have any others to add, please take the time and put in a comment. Have a great weekend.