Tag Archives: Wine

The Great Corking Debate


By Joseph Yacino

If you’ve bought wine lately whether from the local wine shop or even from the grocery store, you’ve probably noticed that some of the wines are sealed with natural cork while others are stopped with synthetic corks or even with screw tops. Which one is best? There was a time that “screw top” equaled cheap, but that is not the case anymore. The biggest supporters of synthetic and screw tops seem to be the manufacturers and the bottlers. Last year alone, the wine stopper industry racked up sales of around $4 billion. Synthetic corks and screw tops are also much less expensive to  produce as compared to natural corks.

Natural cork has been used as a stopper since Dom Perignon first began using it in the seventeenth century. To this day, real cork is associated with elegance and sophistication.

Cork comes from the bark of a species of the oak tree found in the Mediterranean and Portugal. The trees have a lifespan of around 150 years, but the cork can only be harvested once every 9 -12 years. The rising number of bottles of wine being produced every year has left the natural cork industry unable to meet the demand.

Anyone who drinks wine has most likely had a bottle that was “corked.” The off taste is produced by TCA, a fungus which can grow in the cork. Depending on which survey you read, the  numbers are anywhere from 3%-12% of bottles produced and stored. TCA cannot grow on synthetic corks or screw tops.

Synthetic corks can be branded  the same as natural. The synthetic corks also come in a variety of colours. This is a concern, as we do not know how much chemical will leach into the wines over time. Opponents of the synthetic cork argue that they do not change with their surroundings. The glass wine bottles are made of expands and contracts with small temperature shifts.  Natural cork expands and contracts with the bottle, keeping the seal between wine and air consistent.  Consistency is extremely important in successful wine aging.  If the bottle expands, a synthetic cork can let in too much oxygen, ruining the wine by letting the alcohol turn into vinegar.  A bottle that contracts makes a cork that can be tough to remove from the bottle.

Most wine makers use synthetic corks for wines that will be consumed in five years or less.

The bad connotation screw caps had is fading away. Screw caps are now being used by many upscale producers. Concerns with screw caps stem from the fact that they can trap unsavory sulfur gases inside the bottle, ruining its nose and aroma. In a recent 30 month study conducted by Hogue Cellars comparing natural and synthetic cork closures with the Stelvin screw caps, their findings suggest significant benefits in utilizing screw caps over either natural or synthetic cork closures. While screw caps do remove the romance of bottle opening, it is well worth the sacrifice to ensure a taint-free wine that offers consistent aging, maintained flavor and freshness with optimum quality control.

The difference in aging potential between screw caps and corks is abbreviated as “OTR,” or Oxygen Transmission Rate. Quite simply, some oxygen is allowed into the wine slowly via a cork (and also screw cap), and that micro-oxygenation slowly alters the makeup of the wine and the anti-oxidant structure.

Screw caps are starting to be manufactured with special plastic liners that mimic the OTR of cork. Long term studies have been done with mixed results.

Many Australian and New Zealand wineries are bottling exclusively in screw cap. Penfold’s is one who has been bottling some of their above $100 wines in caps for quite a few years. They’ve done in-house trials in their own cellars that show the screw caps age just as well as cork “at least for the first 5 -10 years.”

What is the answer to the Great Corking Debate? It seems the jury is still out. It all depends on your preference/priorities at this point.

September Wine Selection


By Joseph Yacino

With the sun shining and the temperatures still soaring, it may seem like wine would not be refreshing. The truth is this is the perfect time for good rose wine and light whites. Sauvignon blanc, pinot gris/grigiot or a nice white burgandy are the choice for many. I like to let my taste buds travel to Northwest Portugal, the Quinta de Azevedo winery in the Vinho Verde region. There is a fantastic white produced there.

Gazela is the wine.  To me this is this summer’s “hot” wine. Gazela is made from a blend of Loureiro, Trajadura, Azal and Pedernã. The grapes are harvested by hand and undergo careful vinification at temperatures kept below 60F/16ºC to preserve the natural fruit and refreshing acidity that makes Vinho Verde so distinctive and delicious. It is naturally effervescent with crisp fruit flavors of melon, and grapefruit. The tiny bubbles just seem everything seem even better. Only 9% alcohol by volume.

The wine is perfect to sip as an aperitif or with grilled fish, salads and vegetables. The screw top makes it great for picnics and outdoor dining.

The price will tickle your fancy (around $5.99) as much as the bubbles will tickle your tongue. Crack open a bottle of this chilled gem at your next get together.