Ever been at a dinner party where the host uncorks a bottle of wine, shows off the plastic cork and remarks that more wineries are moving away from real corks because the trees they come from are endangered? Well, that’s bullshit.
Not only does cork bark renew itself after harvesting, the less cork is used, demand drops, driving down price and leaving cork forests at risk of being converted or abandoned. That would impact the livelihoods of the people who cut the cork for stoppers and the endangered animals that live in the forests, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The reasons wineries use screw caps or synthetic corks are price and taste impact, said Peggy Evans, executive director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, who, by the way, had never heard of this cork shortage myth.
Not often, but on occasion, cork can cause a musty smell and off-taste to wine by contaminating it with a certain molecule known as TCA. It’s ingeniously called getting “corked” and winemakers don’t like it. Neither does this lady:
Screw caps, and even some corks blended with synthetic materials, are cheaper. Also, cork, which is a breathable enclosure, lets wine age over time, while not so much with screw caps that are air tight.
As for why wineries pick one over the other: Evans said presentation and tradition play a role. Many feel that the elegance of cork translates to higher priced wines and screw caps are only acceptable for less premium products. But, that’s a perception the industry is trying to overcome, Evans said.
Researchers at UC Davis are currently comparing corks and caps and studying the impact they each have on wine taste.
“I think there are lovers and haters on both sides of both fences,” Evans said. “Many makers of higher-end wines are making the switch. We’ll see how it goes.”