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How is corkky formed?
October 10, 2012 1:29 AM   Subscribe


 
This is fascinating. I knew there were cork trees (thanks to Ferdinand the Bull) but had never considered how they were actually created. I only wish this was an episode of How It's Made.
posted by sleeping bear at 1:44 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Heh, I love that term, 'technical cork'.

"Well, technically, it's made of cork, and it seals bottles, so...."

Honestly, for white wines, you don't even need cork. In red wines, you need them; they slowly let oxygen into the bottle, and waste gases out. It can take take twenty or more years for the flavor to reach full potential, and the cork allows it to happen. This is also true for many distilled spirits.

But white wines don't really improve, and are meant to be drunk fairly quickly. They're just as good with a bottlecap as with a cork. People think that all bottlecapped wines must inherently be crap, but that's not at all true.

Corking a white wine is very much like corking beer; all it does is make the end product more expensive, not better.
posted by Malor at 1:47 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


First you have to soak the cork. . .
posted by bardic at 1:54 AM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


wow, a buck and a quarter for one high end cork!
Those must be used only for expensive wine.
...part two on the making of technical corks is also interesting.
posted by quazichimp at 2:17 AM on October 10, 2012


Really cool. It made me wonder how the cork was harvested from the trees. It's by hand, with axes.
posted by putzface_dickman at 3:21 AM on October 10, 2012


Great post! Up with this sort of thing! I love finding out how stuff is made.

Here's Amorim's homepage, in case you (like me) would like to learn more about them. (Not that I think this post needs to be fleshed out, really. It's perfectly fine the way it is.)

Seeing all this cork got me in a celebratory/partying mood, but it also got me thinking about my childhood (my kindergarten was full of cork boards which we'd nail various things to). Now I don't know what to do. Do you think the teachers at the kindergarten next door to my office would take offense if I showed up with a couple of bottles and asked them if they'd like to share them with me?
posted by soundofsuburbia at 3:45 AM on October 10, 2012


People think that all bottlecapped wines must inherently be crap, but that's not at all true.

Anyone who thinks that either doesn't know what they're talking about, or only drinks wine from an increasingly short list of countries. It's an idea that's ten years out of date.

I'm dubious about your red wine claim, IMO screw cap is the best we've got, whether red or white, for long or short term storage.

Still, as terrible, anachronistic, and inconvenient as it is, there's nothing quite like the sound of pulling a cork.
posted by The Monkey at 3:48 AM on October 10, 2012


Cork is oak?! I feel like the little kid looking of from his plate in shock, "You mean chicken is chickens!?"

At some level, I never really revised the image in my head from Ferdinand the Bull.
posted by bendybendy at 3:50 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ooh, I love these sort of posts. Metafilter, teaching me useless but fascinating trivia since 2000!

For some reason I had it in my head that the entire tree was made of cork, one of those childhood assumptions you never question but seems downright silly when you do. It's neat that cork is harvestable without damaging the tree or cutting it down.

Page on the cork oak tree at Wikipedia. They live up to 250 years! Also, "Wine corks represent 15% of cork usage by weight but 66% of revenues." I wonder if the actual wood is good for anything? The page doesn't say.
posted by Georgina at 3:57 AM on October 10, 2012


Someone had once told me that the reason artificial corks were used was because there was a 'cork blight'. Now I assume that this was blarney -
posted by newdaddy at 4:00 AM on October 10, 2012


Really cool. It made me wonder how the cork was harvested from the trees. It's by hand, with axes.

Axes? It's corkscrews, of course!
posted by briank at 4:08 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


bendybendy, I came here to post much the same thing! I had that very Ferdinand image in my head for a long, long time. So long, in fact, that I was 20 years old before I was disabused of the notion that corks grew in bunches on cork trees.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:10 AM on October 10, 2012


...there's nothing quite like the sound of pulling a cork.
posted by The Monkey


It's a constant background noise in Paris, France, and that's why Proust needed a cork-lined room to hear himself think.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:15 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


White wines don't age? You sir have no idea what you are talking about.

Screw tops are the way to go for wines intended to be drunk on release (which is most), cork is the best option we have right now for wines meant to be layed down. The big issue a few years back that led people to move to fake cork was a contamination issue with some cork producers.
posted by JPD at 4:42 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cork is oak?! I feel like the little kid looking of from his plate in shock, "You mean chicken is chickens!?"

Wait til you see where rubber comes from!
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 5:07 AM on October 10, 2012


Unfortunately, Black Books has a closely guarded YouTube clip cache and my favourite clip is not in there, but there's a great scene where Bernard is asleep at his desk and someone pops a cork. He sits bolt upright and shouts: "They're playing our tune!"
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 5:09 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Perfect for me today. The Department of Public Works was out on this rainy day trimming dead/dying trees so that autumn storms won't take them out and power lines with them. Consequently, traffic was held up but I didn't mind since I got to watch the man in the cherry picker taking out branches that other men tossed into the chipper.
posted by plinth at 5:46 AM on October 10, 2012


I love that the site is called wineanorak. When it comes to the Internet, the anorak-and-proud people are one of life's great blessings. :-)
posted by Kit W at 5:59 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Wine corks represent 15% of cork usage by weight but 66% of revenues." I wonder if the actual wood is good for anything?

I believe the rest of the usage is for flooring and bulletin boards. Obviously that's the ground and glued stuff, so the revenue per weight is lower.

I haven't heard of the wood being used much, but it does come up occasionally as a decorative oddity.
posted by echo target at 6:08 AM on October 10, 2012


Huh, I heard there was a shortage too, but it turns out, the only real threat to cork oak is the plastic bottle stopper.
posted by latkes at 6:23 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now that you've got your cork, you can make a bulletin board. Let's get this doin' done.
posted by emelenjr at 6:35 AM on October 10, 2012


What a lovely set of photos! Thanks for posting it.

I'm always pleased when I find screw-cap bottles. Easier to open, no chance of taint, can securely re-close it if you don't finish the bottle. I love wine tradition but cork taint sucks and with a rate of 1% — 7% (highly disputed) of ruining the bottle, cork is just not a great way to close a bottle of wine. The remaining question on screw closures is what happens to them after 20 years, mostly because there's not many 20 year old screw caps to test. I'm optimistic.

(And good heavens, if you've never had a 20+ year aged white wine you're in for a treat. Heavier white wines age beautifully and become fascinating things. Try a white Chateauneuf du Pape or Burgundy. Sadly it's very hard to find a good aged white in the US; more available in Europe, although still awfully expensive.)
posted by Nelson at 6:57 AM on October 10, 2012


God, I hate those agglomerate corks. Just give me a damn synthetic cork if your mass-market wine must have a cork closure to hit your target consumer, and a screw cap is fine for 90% of the table wine I'm buying at the grocery store. Anything that requires an actual fancy cork, I'm getting at the wine store anyway.

I've noticed (mass market) Australian wines use more synthetic corks and screw caps than most other countries, which makes me look for them preferentially when I'm picking out something new at the supermarket.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:13 AM on October 10, 2012


Another Ferdinander here. Lovely walk through the process.
posted by tilde at 7:28 AM on October 10, 2012


I haven't heard of the wood being used much

That's because it's used over and over, to produce cork.
posted by chavenet at 7:52 AM on October 10, 2012


Fascinating post! Thank you.
posted by misha at 8:05 AM on October 10, 2012


mmm, agglomerate cork.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:14 AM on October 10, 2012


Cork is oak?! I feel like the little kid looking of from his plate in shock, "You mean chicken is chickens!?"

Wait til you see where rubber comes from!


That's nuthin'! You should see how he makes the donuts.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:28 AM on October 10, 2012


I wonder if the actual wood is good for anything? The page doesn't say.

I believe it's crucial for supporting and nourishing the acorns that eventually fall on the ground and get eaten by Iberian pigs, which eventually become the pricier versions of Jamon.
posted by LionIndex at 8:35 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm always pleased when I find screw-cap bottles. Easier to open, no chance of taint, can securely re-close it if you don't finish the bottle. I love wine tradition but cork taint sucks and with a rate of 1% — 7% (highly disputed) of ruining the bottle, cork is just not a great way to close a bottle of wine.

I agree in principle (I pretty much always get white wine with a screw top), but for good wine that needs to be aged ... I don't know enough but it seems like the cork has a part in that process.

How Wine Corks Affect Aging Wine


Not totally what it says on the tin, but a good visual breakdown of different kids of cork. Agglomerated corks are good for nothing.

Here's what I've understood, though I'm a mere level 1 or 2 oenophile (amateur): as (conventionally vinted) wine ages in a barrel, it absorbs oxygen (oxidative aging); as it ages in the bottle, it loses oxygen (reductive aging). I don't see how a screwcap would allow the same oxygen transfer within the bottle. (I also don't know how they can tell how much oxygen a cork will allow either, but that's a different riddle.)

Oh, or what Malor said in the second f'ing comment ... ;) oh, but hey chuck, we got some nonbelievers out there ...

I'm dubious about your red wine claim, IMO screw cap is the best we've got, whether red or white, for long or short term storage.

Aging Gracefully is a good article on aging for home vintners, and it gets into caps, but it still doesn't really explain the effect of cork on aging. I'll keep looking...
posted by mrgrimm at 8:36 AM on October 10, 2012


Ah, nevermind. Short answer is that there's not enough data on long-term aging of capped wines, so everybody says maybe.

Plumpjack Reserve seems to be the focal point in the caps vs. cork debate on aging.

Your dubiousness is well warranted, The Monkey!
posted by mrgrimm at 8:42 AM on October 10, 2012


I don't see how a screwcap would allow the same oxygen transfer within the bottle.

Answer here is "Most screw caps are made with a plastic that transmits oxygen, and quite a bit of research is being done in regards to how to match cork OTRs (ed: oxygen transmission rates) with screw caps... "

Also, a good answer on Quora?! WTF.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:46 AM on October 10, 2012


I wonder if the actual wood is good for anything?

The bark can be harvested over and over for two centuries. The wood can be harvested once.

It's perfectly good wood, I'm guessing, but it'd be like making Christmas dinner of the goose that lays golden eggs.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:05 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


MrGrimm: in all the reading I've done, I've found no believable consensus on cork vs. screw cap and aging. There's a lot of mumbo jumbo about air exchange through the cork and a little about the cork itself flavoring the wine. But nothing I've seen is solid science. The folks at UC Davis recently put out a press release about a study they're doing (working with PlumpJack). It looks more like a publicity stunt than real science, but UC Davis has one of the best wine academic programs in the world.

Wine is complicated. There's been similar hand-wringing and confusion about the modernization of fermentation equipment, particularly the shift from wood to steel vats. It's not clear if something subtle is lost when using a steel fermentation vat for a really fine wine. But it is clear that the improvement in consistency and cleanliness has greatly improved the quality of ordinary daily wine, particularly in poorer countries.
posted by Nelson at 10:00 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bet this one was pop-ular. Heh.
posted by gallus at 10:25 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Neat! I wonder what the differences are between hand-punched and machine-punched corks.
posted by Fig at 10:34 AM on October 10, 2012


There's a lot of mumbo jumbo about air exchange through the cork and a little about the cork itself flavoring the wine.

I've been intrigued by the stories about counterfeit wines, not the re-bottlers so much as the guys who whip up imitation great wines. I imagine coffee and other natural flavorings in there. Another adulterant that came to mind was a tea of steeped corks and horse manure.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:41 AM on October 10, 2012


These granules are then cleaned using a steam process, which removes about 80% of any TCA present.

What's TCA?
posted by Specklet at 11:15 AM on October 10, 2012


Specklet: TCA is this. Although the immature person that I am laughed at the fact that corks have "taints."
posted by Yellow at 11:20 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a cork oak tree in my backyard. There are tons of them around here -- it's a popular landscaping tree.

Heed my words, people, don't ever plant a cork oak unless you plan to be a large-scale cork producer. It's one of the biggest pain-in-the-ass trees ever. You know how most decidious trees drop their leaves in fall? Yeah, well, this one drops its leaves three or more times a year. And they're thick, sturdy leaves -- much like a live oak's. They don't break down and melt away. They stay there, on the lawn, until you rake the damn things. Three times a year, or more.

And the trees get HUGE. And like other HUGE oak trees, they have large, powerful, forceful roots that are near the soil surface. The sidewalk alongside the house looks like a barge that ran aground, and I have to re-hang the back gate every couple of years because it was built right over one of those roots and the fence post that supports it shifts by 5 degrees every 12 months or so.

The cork-making process is pretty cool when admired from afar. But for the love of god, don't ever plant a cork oak in your yard.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:26 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


> not enough data on long-term aging of capped wines

Maybe not for today's caps with today's plastics, but
the case of experiments carried out by Château Haut-Brion in the 1970s, when 100 bottles were placed under screwcap for long term observation. The result was, according to Haut-Brion manager Jean-Bernard Delmas, that "it worked perfectly for the first ten years, until the plastic in the caps went brittle and let air in".
posted by morganw at 3:02 PM on October 10, 2012


I make wine, mead, cider and beer at home. For the wines that I will lay up for long-term storage and aging, I use natural corks. For the bottles that I plan to give away, I use synthetic corks. Now, I'm working from less than 10 years of data here, but the natural-corked wines (both reds and whites) seemed to mature much better than their synthetic-corked sisters from the same batch and bottling time. The same steps are taken in preparation and bottle-washing, the corks are all sterilized and soaked, the only difference is if I happened to reach for a synthetic cork or a natural cork when bottling. I of course cellar my wines on their side to keep the corks wet, as a dry cork will eventually let air in. That's also why I use synthetic corks for the giveaway bottles; they don't need to be stored flat and are more likely to be consumed sooner rather than later.

I recently opened a bottle of my first Cab from eight years ago, natural cork, and it was outstanding. It had mellowed quite a bit, the corners rounded nicely. A short time later, found a sister bottle that had a synthetic cork. It was fine, but nowhere near as great as the bottle with the natural cork.

I don't know the science behind it, but advice and experience have taught me: Natural cork for the bottles you intend to keep, synthetic for those you'll give away. And the only reason I avoid screw-cap wines is they tend to be cheaper, more brittle bottles that don't lend themselves to re-use, and the necks on screw-cap bottles aren't always shaped properly for a cork to make a good seal. I've had plenty of good wines from screw-cap bottles, even from boxes, too.
posted by xedrik at 8:13 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


How cool; thanks for posting this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:38 PM on October 10, 2012


xedrik; have you tried a blind tasting of the artificial cork vs. natural cork?
posted by Nelson at 8:13 AM on October 11, 2012


No, but that would be an interesting experiment! I'm drinking for SCIENCE!!
posted by xedrik at 8:30 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


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