Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Corks or screw tops?

The other night I watched a film created by Mike Salisbury (for BBC Natural World) about the cork oaks in southern Portugal.  If you ever see it, you will think twice before buying wine with screw top or plastic stoppers – cork is best, at least for wildlife.

Cork is the traditional way of sealing wine and the bark of these magnificent oaks is harvested every nine years without hurting the trees. A single tree can produce 4,000 corks with workers using sharp axes to cut long lengths which are peeled away, stacked high on a trailer and taken to the cork factory. Biodiversity blossoms in these cork forests with a rich mix of birdlife, 26 species of bats and black pigs feasting on the acorns.

All worked well until something happened ... I’m not sure if it was the lure of EU farm payments resulting in less production or the sudden dramatic growth of wine consumption in the 1980s. But either way the result was that cork producers could not keep up with demand. This period coincided with some dodgy corks hitting the market with dodgy meaning contamination with TCA (TriChloroAnisole), the principal cause of corked wine.  

Enter the plastic stoppers and metal screw tops. Game over? The film shows the work of a passionate man called Francisco keeping his part of the forest alive and productive. New procedures have eliminated almost all incidence of TCA through a double dunk of the raw cork into boiling water. But alas the ease of screw top use is here to stay. It’s just too convenient although wine merchants and supermarkets tend towards cork for their more expensive bottles.

Does it affect the quality? For my own part the thought of that abundant wildlife would enhance the perceived quality beyond all measure.

As for the film, I enjoyed it as an event laid on by the Snowdonia Society. Events in March include an introduction to hand-made dancing clogs with Trefor Owen of Cricieth on 6th March and a guided walk amongst the rare native wild daffodils of Snowdonia led by Rod Gritten on the 26th March.  For more details on either of these events please contact huw@snowdonia-society.org.uk

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