World of Wine: Americans, French alike consider cork best bottle closure

By Ron Smith | Inforum | April 15, 2015

Want something to show off at your next Trivial Pursuit game? Try this: What natural material is lighter than water, nearly impervious to air, hard to burn, resists rot, so elastic that it can snap back into original shape after 14,000 pounds of pressure per cubic inch and, by the way, has 200 million 14-sided cells within that cubic inch?

Ask that question at your next wine tasting party, and depending on whether or not too much of the “tasting” resulted in swallowing the wine, someone in the group should be able to know it is cork.

Wine and cork are a permanently married couple, in spite of the intrusion of other closure methods on the market. The simple fact is that Americans and French alike consider cork closure to be representative of both quality and sustainability.

Skilled harvesters sustainably harvest cork, actually being the dead outer bark of Quercus suber, from the evergreen cork oak every nine to 10 years. The cambium layer that remains begins anew producing more cork for the next harvest in another decade. Cork oaks are known to live 150 to 200 years.

Robert Hooke, a researcher for the Royal Society in England, discovered cork’s qualities via microscope. Playing with his newly invented instrument, Hooke was toying with looking deeply into all kinds of objects: bird feathers, fleas and, on “Observation Eighteen,” discovered the wondrous spacious qualities of cork, calling it to “be all perforated and porous, much like a honeycomb.”

Along with the re-discovery of cork being the best enclosure for wine, bottle improvement had to take place. Initially, the bottles were very long-necked and broad-based, making them easy to stand on the table without tipping, but making them difficult to store. Finally, the British got it right, with the bottle shape being similar to what we currently have.

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