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Delhi Wine Club
Blog: Real Wine with Cork

Posted: Friday, 24 September 2010 18:18

Blog: Real Wine with Cork

I get several mails asking wine questions that I answer individually to the best of my ability but a recent mail asking me where the real wine with cork was available in a particular city attracted my attention and I realized there might be thousands of new wine drinkers who believe in the myth that the ‘real’ wine must be sealed with a cork and it needs clarification.

Why do we need a cork, screw-cap or any other type of closure to seal the bottle, in the first place? The answer is simple- but we need to understand the reason. Every bottle or can needs a closure. In case of wine, the selection becomes critical. Wine is not like whisky, vodka, rum or gin where any closure (ddhakkan) is fine. It is a product in transition. Prolonged touch with oxygen results in a permanent chemical change into vinegar. At the same time, an extremely small contact with air helps maturation.

Cork with the millions of extremely small pores provides this contact and yet prevents a mass leakage of oxygen, an enemy of wine, from entering the bottle. That’s how the fine wines needing maturing get better and complex in the bottle even when they have been kept in the bottle.

But there has been a problem. Some corks (2-7% generally) show the propensity to react chemically, giving a compound called TCA and this results in corking of the wine ( a musty smell and off-taste). To avoid this problem, winemakers have started using alternative closures, screw-caps being the more popular substitutes. There are synthetic corks, chemically treated corks, cork with materials of different compositions, glass and of course, screw caps. There is also now wine in a bag-in-the-box the closures/taps of which have become so sophisticated that they have gained increasing acceptance in Nordic countries, though in India they are still identified with cheap wine.

On the other hand, in Australia and New Zealand, the screw-cap has become a de-facto standard apart from the very expensive and age-worthy red wine. Their wines areas real as, say, in Italy or France where the acceptance of screw-caps has been slower. In fact in an earlier article on delWine I had written how the well known Australian winemaker Vanya Cullen rues her past vintage wines getting spoilt because of cork. Despite the corking problem bothering he industry for decades, both Australia and New Zealand used corks extensively till a couple of decades back.

All wines made from fruit are ‘real’ though I don’t mind sharing that I believe grape wines are ‘more real’. There is a fundamental difference-the tannins in the grape and higher content of acid that makes it possible to not only age the wine (augmented by the possibility of wine coming in touch with oak and acquiring some more tannins and complexity) but also change flavours due to the formation of several esters as it evolves in the bottle.

Due to the tainting of wine due to cork and thus giving it a musty smell, more and more producers globally are changing to other closures, especially screw-caps and even glass. Acceptance of cork replacement has been slow but sure. In the rather sophisticated UK market screw-cap was not accepted till a decade ago and many new converts in Australia and New Zealand were forced to use corks for export to UK and many other countries including India. Today, screw caps are accepted standards for a majority of wines there.

The situation has changed very fast in India as well, where Sula was perhaps the first winery that started bottling their regular whites in screw-capped bottles. Un-noticed by most people, today they bottle their Dindori Reserve red wine also in the same way. Grover also followed suit and now many other producers have shifted to these closures too.

One reason why people shifted to screw-caps from cork was also because the white wine remains very fresh. Since most wines we drink- in India anyway, are young wines (meaning they are made to be drunk within a year or two of there production) and there is no obvious advantage of using cork.) screw-cap is an obvious choice though many, including me, miss the romance of uncorking the bottle.

In all fairness, the cork producers-mostly in Portugal, are improving the quality and spending heavy amounts before the industry dies. However, as a consumer, we don’t really need to worry too much about it-and should leave it to the wine producer to decide. Certainly, it is unfair to say that ‘real’ wine (which our reader apparently mistakenly perceives as good quality wine) is with cork- only.

For any other question or comment, we welcome you to contact us at delWine. It is almost a cliché to say that in wine there are no silly questions- but only silly answers. In this case our reader asked a very pertinent question and hopefully, my answer is not silly!!


Subhash Arora



FPB Says:

While on the subject of wine corks, can anyone suggest what I can do with them? We have a huge collection of wine corks, both real cork as well as a few of the synthetic ones. It would be a shame to just throw them away.

Posted @ January 11, 2011 17:54


Subhash Arora Says:

Dear Jose Remoaldo, Dear Jose Antonio Remoaldo, Thanks for your comments. The article your have sent is very enlightening. My purpose of the Blog was to impress upon our ill-informed viewers in India that wine does not have to have cork as the closure to be a 'real' wine. Fine quality wines from Australia, New Zealand and many other countries using alternative closures have proved that. Even the wine producers in India are generally happier with screw-caps, especially for white wines. Before I comment on that article, I must confess I am a wine romantic who'd miss the uncorking of a bottle, especially fine wine.

I don't wish to comment on the article which is very well written, except that as an international judge in several world class wine competitions, I still come across 2-4% of wines as corked. The percentage has been coming down during the last 5 years- and  it is not possible for a judge to analyse whether the decrease is due to better cork or increasing number of screw-capped wines. I am very aware that Portugal (and specifically Amorim) and other cork producing nations are well seized of the problem and have invested heavily in quality improvement.

I know the quality has improved a lot- it is understandable that such a huge industry would not remain static and helpless. But I do believe that there are 2-4% cork taints even now. Perhaps, Robert parker and Jancis Robinson taste higher quality wines for which the cork was first to be improved. At any rate the vendors started using better quality cork and went for more stringent quality checks in the winery. I am referring to corking in the competitions where generally the samples entered are of lower quality.

I am sure cork will remain central as a closure but the real test would be to convince the producers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile etc to switch back to cork-it is after all, the most environment friendly closure available today-not to forget the romance of uncorking a bottle of fine wine. Please do keep us posted on the latest in the cork industry.
Subhash Arora 

Posted @ October 05, 2010 12:33


Jose Antonio Remoaldo Says:

Dear Mr. Subhash Arora, In a constructive educational perspective, allow me to send you some articles and link to a summary of international wine competition results that show some highlights on the current status of perceptive wine faults related to TCA. The 2-7% generally sensory defects does not show the reality of the present.

Posted @ October 04, 2010 17:20


Subhash Arora Says:

Dear Kedar, Thanks for the comment. I wonder if your French contact would like to throw some light directly on the Blog. Subhash Arora 

Posted @ September 27, 2010 15:33


Kedar Bobde Says:

Dear All, Sorry to just cut you in but as a matter of fact one of my good friend and french national - respected nobel in hotel industry has a opinion that when you by wine and store them well in cellar they do better on palate with time to come..well he had lot more to say on wines as he is from France about hows and whys..etc..

Posted @ September 27, 2010 12:30


Subhash Arora Says:

Dear Madan, I am sorry I forgot to react to your comments 'and none of the wine will improve in bottle  ... when they do bottling they will do process make the wine will be stable.' What you are saying apparently is that the wine does not age and get better in the bottle. This is far from truth and I wonder where you learnt about wine-when you don’t know this fundamental thing about wine aging. Of course not all wines improve and those that do have to be kept lying down at proper storage temperature of 13-15° C.

What you are referring to is perhaps the cold stabilization of white wines at -4° C or pasteurization which is heating the wine to 80° C and cooling in a flash within 30 seconds. Though used mainly to make kosher wines, it is used more for milk, cheese and beer, although the process was invented by Louis Pasteur in the mid nineteenth century for wines. I have not seen a single winery that uses this process-if you have ever been to one or know of one, please let me know.

Your knowledge of wines seems to be scarce and scary-especially as you say you are a sommelier. Where do you work and from where did you learn about wines? If you are around Delhi, I’d be willing to come and talk to you and your colleagues and remove doubts and myths, without any charge. Subhash Arora

Posted @ September 27, 2010 12:21


Subhash Arora Says:

Dear Madan, You seem to be confused about the role of oak barrels and the cork and not up to date with the problems that cause for teh TCA. Firstly the article has nothing to do with Indian sommeliers- I sincerly hope you didn't refer to me as one! I am not a qualified Sommelier and my observation is based on visiting over 500 wineries globally, tasting over 12,000 bottles of wine and judging at around 15 international wine competions and studying and writing prolifically about wines-and only wines. My emphasis was not on the technical aspects but to stress that 'real' wine does not have to have cork as the closure. 

The problem of TCA comes primarily from cork and only in the last few years, it has also been attributed to the unhygienic conditions in the cellar, when a couple of Californian wineries were found lacking in the hygience and were landed with corked wine on hand. A recent study which we carried in delWine (this is perhaps first such study of this kind) blames the oak barrel for the problem-this has been denied by the French Tonneliers Association  (I do hope you know what the tonneliers are!).

Screwcaps have been in existence before you and I were born- they are no inventions. They have been modiefied for wine with a special plastic disc to avoid oxygen. It is just that since Australia and New Zealand became successful in licking the TCA problem by using the screwcap (which may have its own problems, by the way- I dont want to touch that subject here) so they went whole hog into it and other countries including India started following. Since they started using screwcaps, the cork taint problem has been practically licked. And they still use oak to age their wines- including white wines like chardonnay!!!

And who taught you that only great vintage wine is good? Good vintages can make great wines but even during poor vintages, the winemaker can make very decent wine-taht may not age as well but nevertheless drinks well. Surely, the vintage has a lot to do with the quality especially where rains, hail storms and exceptional heat etc influence the wine a lot-like in Bordeaux, Burgundy and many wine producing regions but good winemakers are sometimes able to make good wine even in poor vintages. But I am glad you brought out your viewpoint in the open for discussion. Subhash Arora

Posted @ September 25, 2010 14:14


Madan Says:

Sir i don't kno where you learn about wines .. article is some thing is missing ... screw cap not invented not only bcoz of TCA ...TCA problem only when you do oak aging sir ... and non of the wine will not improve in bottle .. when they do bottling they will do process make the wine will be stable ... like you can say old wines means thats not really great wine ... only the great vintage wine you can say is good ... pls stop do this kind of aritical to damage indian sommelier future ... madan sommelier

Posted @ September 25, 2010 14:10


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