Screw-cap bottled wines were once reserved for rotgut quality, gallon jug sizes and cheap prices. The better wines would all use a cork stopper. But in the 1970s a few bottlers began to introduce a higher quality wine with screw caps arguing the barrier against oxidation was more complete with metal than cork, and “tainted” wines (where the flavor of the cork passes into the wine) would be eliminated. As true as all that might be, the tradition of the cork stuck along with the flourish of it being pulled from the bottle.
The characteristics of cork itself – air and water tight, pliable and inexpensive – all contributed to making cork the preferred bottled wine stopper for hundreds of years. It is naturally lightweight, rot resistant, fire resistant, termite resistant, soft and buoyant – the perfect barrier between the wine and that which would damage it: air.
One downside to cork is that if it dries out completely it will shrink and become brittle, ergo corked wines should be kept on their sides and the corks wet if they are to be stored for a long time. Stoppers have recently been developed using synthetic materials which would reduce this problem, but the long-term affects of these materials on the wine itself isn’t yet known.
As wine production demands have increased and bottling techniques improved – and perhaps because it simply takes many decades to change some traditions – more and more people are beginning to appreciate the benefits of an easy-to-use and consistent airtight seal. At Brasserie L’Oustau, it is with the same respect that our servers twist a cap on a bottle of fine wine or pull a cork, it’s just a little less difficult.