Is there really a cork shortage?
This is question that I often get to discuss with my guests after they testify that Italian DOCG wines must by regulation have the natural cork. The tendencies in the New World seem to go over to alternative solutions even for the better wines, such as screw tops and silicone cork-imitations.
Many blame this development on cork shortage, but it seems to be a tale as it should much more likely be blamed on the increase of prices on good cork.
Another argument that I’ve heard forwarded is the one that the alternative solutions are more nature-friendly than natural cork. Here I don’t see the logic – how can a natural product be more threatening to the environment than plastic materials that are less degradable? Cork is a unique substance and a long-proven closure for wine. No other stopper combines cork's inert nature, impermeability to liquids, flexibility, sealing ability and resilience. Being a natural product, cork is also environmentally friendly, renewable, recyclable and biodegradable.
To harvest the cork, the outer bark is stripped from the tree once every 10 years and the tree regenerates the bark. The cork industry is environmentally friendly and truly sustainable. Cork trees are only removed when they become decrepit with age or to reduce overcrowding. So natural cork is probably the most nature-friendly solution we might find.
So I think it is fair to conclude that the cork shortage could have been overstated by alternative cork producers or wineries who are not willing to pay the premium price for natural cork.
“Corked” or “tainted” wines and what is the incidence of cork taint?
Cork itself does not affect the wine but the cork may become contaminated with TCA bacteria, a worldwide pollution affecting many food and beverage products, and this may migrate into the wine, causing taint.
There is no definitive research that accurately determines the incidence of cork-related taint, although oenological studies suggest that 2-5% of wines are affected by some sort of taint, of which cork taint is one factor.
Can wine be affected by TCA only through the cork?
No. TCA is often referred to as cork taint; this wrongly suggests the cork is the sole cause of TCA. However, TCA can be found in bottled water, wine bottled with screw caps, beer, spirits, soft drink, packaged food products and even raisins. TCA in wine may be due to:
- Contaminated oak barrels or corks
- Contaminated winery machinery or bottling equipment
- Airborne moulds in the winery environs
- Moulds in transport containers or the home cellar
I would be happy to receive comments or questions.