Put A Cork In It

As I was cleaning out my liquor/wine storage, I noticed a case of Domaine Serene (Evenstad Reserve – fabulous, by the way) has an insert that explains their zero-tolerance policy toward any form of cork taint. They use a cork called DSGC (Domaine Serene Guaranteed Cork). This company refunds money for any corked wine of theirs, regardless of whether or not it has this designation. I thought this was pretty bold, considering I haven’t been able to find another winery with a statement that speaks so directly of their commitment to a quality product. This got me thinking again… What kind of closures are there now? Who’s using what? What do the old-schoolers think?

What is cork taint?

What we’re talking about here is a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA). It’s that musty smell a wine can take on if oxygen has gotten through the closure. Some oxygen getting through the wine can help with mellowing it over time, if it is meant to age. The oxygen transmission rate (how much oxygen actually gets through the cork) is the critical point here. Too much? You’ll get that musty, tainted smell. Too little? The wine can’t relax and soften the tannins with time in the bottle.

Let’s look at a few of the most common alternative closures:

  • Synthetic closures are made from plastic compounds to have the look and feel of natural cork while removing the risk of TCA contamination.
  • Stelvin caps, or “screw caps,” are made from aluminum that threads directly on to the wine bottle neck. They form a tighter seal than cork and can keep out oxygen for a longer time.
  • Vino-Seal or Vinolok is a plastic/glass closure that claims to create a hermetic seal that prevents oxidation and TCA contamination.
  • Zork is made just for still wines. It supposedly seals like a screw cap and pops like a cork. These closures have three parts: an outer cap that locks on to a standard bottle, an inner metal foil that acts like an oxygen barrier, and an inner plunger that creates that “pop.”

Everyone has an opinion. We all know there’s always going to be some opposition to using anything but “real” cork closures. In 2006, Spain outlawed the use of alternative closures in 11 of their wine-producing regions by making that rule part of the D.O. regulations. Environmentalists talk about the loss of cork forests to commercial crops. Advocates of artificial corks claim that natural corks are just “ground up cork and cork dust bonded with a solvent,” implying that real corks are no more recyclable than artificial corks. These “ground up” corks are different from “natural” corks, which are made in one piece from cork tree bark. Some people even claim that artificial corks of any kind can impart an off flavor in the wine.

Here’s what I think. Young, fresh, porch-pounding wines? I can’t see how any closure would make a difference. I’m buying these wines to drink, and they very rarely last a week, let alone years, in a cellar. Having said that, I just bought (for the restaurant) some 1995 Ridge Montbello, and you can bet it’s a natural cork closure. These types of age-worthy wines need that natural exchange of oxygen through the cork so the wine can soften and mellow out. I love Stelvin caps for the ease of opening and closing. In my by-the-glass program (even though most aren’t screw caps), I love to see quality wines with screw caps. They last much longer that just jamming a cork back in the bottle. I see a place for all these closures. It makes me wonder what they cost and how that can affect the final bottle price.

What do y’all think?

Till next time!


If you ever have wine questions, are looking for advice, or just want to talk about wine, please stop in and say hello!

Cheers,

Will Olendorf, Maynards Market & Kitchen Sommelier