Last time we looked at where cork comes from and learned that it's actually the bark of the Cork Oak tree. It is bark that can take 25 to 50 years to get to the point where it is usable for wine bottles and each tree can only be harvested every nine years so as to not do permanent damage to the inner bark of the tree. But then there is a capsule that covers the cork and the top of the bottle. Ever wonder why there is a capsule on a wine bottle?
Originally the capsule was placed over the cork as a means of protecting the cork from insects and rodents that found the cork to be an enjoyable meal. The capsule served as a barrier between the critters and the cork. There are also some theories that the capsule was also a way of covering the cork from would-be wine thieves. The capsule kept unscrupulous individuals from being able to pull the cork on a good bottle, drink the contents, replace it with inferior wine and re-cork the bottle! I'm not completely sure of this one, but it makes some sense. But, it certainly was the original reason behind the wire-netting that was used over some bottles of wines.
The wine bottle capsule, and wire-netting, continue to be used today. But not to protect the cork from critters or the wines from dishonest thieves. Today the capsule and netting serve purely as decorative elements of the wine bottle packaging. This was abundantly clear during a recent visit to a small winery. While standing at the tasting bar, the owner came out with a couple different gold-colored capsules and asked which one looked best with their label. After a bit of comparison with the colors on the wine label, it seemed obvious that one was the better shade of gold. "Yes" the owner said, "but it's considerably more expensive than the other one." I don't actually know which capsule they ended up choosing, but the capsule is all about packaging. And economics.
Originally the capsule was made of lead. It was a very malleable metal that was easily formed into the proper shape. But, in the 1990's, it was confirmed that the lead left enough residue on the bottle's lip so as to be a potential lead poisoning health hazard to wine drinkers. So lead was replaced with tin or plastic. There are also many wineries that are eliminating the capsule completely, or just placing a small dollop of sealing wax over the top of the cork.
One other bit of trivia regarding the capsule. If you take a close look at the top of the capsule you'll typically see one or two tiny pinholes in the cap. These holes have been attributed to allowing the cork and the wine to ever-so-slightly breath over time. But the commonly accepted reason is much more practical. These tiny holes in the top of a wine capsule actually allow the air to escape while the capsule is being installed. Without these 'vents' the air inside the capsule would become trapped and the capsule would not be able to fully seat on the lip of the bottle.
Well, that's a lot of information on something that we usually ignore and simply cut off before enjoying a bottle of wine. So here's to pulling that cork and enjoying a nice glass of wine. Cheers!
Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Columbia Crest Chardonnay ($8)
This week's wine is Columbia Crest Chardonnay. A great value at $8! While the pendulum of Chardonnays has swung away from the heavily oaked "Big Buttery" Chardonnays, the Columbia Crest still gives buttery-oak Chardonnay lovers a viable option. While the oak is bold and rich, it is not over-the-top. This is a great wine with seafood, chicken or a salad.