Established by the Greeks, the process of using a cork has been used since the 5th Century BC. There is a great air of mystery wrapped around pulling the cork out of a bottle of wine. What corkscrew to use, how to hold the bottle, do I look at or smell the cork and the list just goes on. Most of these considerations are not pertinent. The cork is there to seal the bottle and that’s just about it.
As well as corks leaking or drying out we can have the problem of a ‘corked’ bottle. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to control this. Wine becomes ‘corked’ or tainted when a chemical called tri-chloro-anisole (TCA) combines with chlorine in the bleach used to sanitize the corks. TCA arises from moulds naturally occurring in the tree bark. It is virtually impossible to detect a moldy cork before it’s put into the bottle.
A severely corked bottle is easy to pick. It will smell like damp carpet or a flooded cellar. It gives that musty unpleasant smell. And this is fine because you can know straight away that something is wrong with the bottle.
A lightly corked bottle presents a bigger problem. The wine will smell flat and taste dull. There will be no fruit nose and no fruit flavor. The uneducated wine drinker will assume that this is how the wine is supposed to taste. The reputation of the winery suffers through something they have no knowledge of or control over. A no win situation.
Wineries responded to this problem by using synthetic corks by the millions. The cork industry responded by spending millions on research to find the cause and cure for cork taint. A chlorine free cork treatment process was developed and this has helped greatly.
Anecdotal evidence says up to 8% of bottles had cork taint a few years ago. Now, that’s down to below 2% which is great news.
It’s the natural properties of the cork that make it as useful as a closure for wine bottles.
Summary: Follow the advice in the other sections, and you’ll give your corks the best possible chance of helping age your wines properly.
Quality of the cork