'Quercs' of The French

photo: corks, wine glasses

A French 'quirk' is perferring cork to plastic.

Screw Caps Don't 'POP'

by Badger

London:- Wednesday, 19. April 2000:- A scientific discourse in the German newsmagazine 'Der Spiegel' this week reveals how there have been unsuccessful attempts to develop growth of the cork oak - Quercus Suber - in Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia and France.

Cork is tetchy, and refuses to grow anywhere much except the Western Mediterranean. Portugal supplies about one-third of total production.

Demand is outstripping production; production is outstripping the bark of the trees. This particular form of vegetation provides a vital contribution to a major sector of French foreign trade and - importantly - to French domestic culture.

As far as I know, you can't smoke cork, but you can put it inphoto: sparkling wine, corks bottles, which maybe explains the French preference for cirrhosis of the liver over the heart attacks which others in Europe seem to favour.

The Germans - 'Les Outre Rhins' - are looking into the idea of sacrificing this traditional bottle sealant in favour of mechanical or synthetic solutions, which are more sensible and ecologically sound.

Bubbly 'plonk' on display in 'quirky' French wine shop.

They have been watching and learning from the progress the Swiss have made, and the Swiss are noted not just for being dreadfully efficient - more so than the Germans - but also tediously sober.

Early days yet in Allemagne, but pilot schemes have indicated how the public at large can be successfully prepared to accept this new option.

Germans respect their engineers. They listen to them and do what they recommend - accepting information from what they deem to be reliable sources, because they are actually quite sensible.

The so-called 'New World' winesters in America, Southern Africa and Australia are opting more and more for 'artificial' cork. Some of these look like cork but are made of plastic.

These substitutes require the flair, pleasure and masochistic inconvenience of messing around with a corkscrew, but without stripping rain forests and costing a fortune.

And the 'New World' is on the up and up. Respected British wine critic Oz Clarke was recently asked which wines he would like to have with him on a desert island, and said he'd like some good fighting 'New World' plonk, because it "Tastes bloody good and is excellent value for money."

I agree with him on that one even he is going to drink it at the island's 'chambre' temperature. I am confident he knows his job.

France, Wake Up!

It looks like most French - God rot them - will still not accept the iconoclastic defeat of such an essential bastion of Frenchness. They are probably scared that Jeanne d'Arc willphoto: cork products arise from the flames to fight its defence, or that de Gaulle will stand up and give yet another resounding "Non!"

I took the liberty of seeking independent advice, partly because I am not an expert - and partly because I don't always believe what I read in the press, although 'Der Spiegel' is usually pretty sound.

Other cork products on display in a big shop; now closed - on the Boulevard Montparnasse.

I asked someone in the business, who said that the only conceivable reason for sticking with cork in France was the French mentality. No other logical reason whatsoever.

His business? A vintner. In France.

Comment from Metropole's Own Cork Expert:

Allan Pangborn writes from the 'New World:' "There has been a desire to replace cork for as long as I can remember.

"In the early '70's we tried standard bottles with both corks and screw caps. After one and two years in the bottles, sample tasting always showed the screw-capped wine was fresher and in better condition than the cork finished wine.

"Poor quality corks can adversely affect wine. This was a huge problem in the early '90's from bad corks from Portugal that tainted many fine wines.

"It was caused by the Reds when they controlled Portugal and tried to increase cork production by fertilizing and other fast-growth practices in the oak forests.

"The oak trees have the bark removed after a minimum of seven years so it took a while for the bad cork to get into the production cycle. Then it took a while to get the bad cork out of the cycle again.

"Crown caps are used during the second fermentation of champagne but you don't get the POP like a cork makes. Plastic champagne stoppers arephoto: new champagne cork, wire holder used but they don't seal the bottle as well as cork. They are only found on low quality/price sparkling wines that are meant to be opened soon.

A cork from Champagne, before it has been stuffed into a Champagne bottle.

"The finest Bordeaux wines are sometimes recorked at the Château every 25 years or so. In the United States, Château Lafite-Rothschild occasionally offers a recorking service for wines 25 years old or older.

"You tell them what vintage you have and they bring bottles of that year from their reserve at the Château to top your bottles up, so they retain their vintage designation. I remember having a 1926 Château La Tour in 1972. The cork indicated it had been recorked at the Château in 1966.

"The bottom line is that corks are best for red wines that will be aged for a long time and screw caps are best for wines to be consumed one or two years after bottling.

"The public unfortunately associates screw caps with low quality wines so screw caps are probably not going to replace corks anytime soon."

Ed's Note: Badger rightly says he is not an 'expert' even though I have personally seen him drink wines that have been uncorked as opposed to unscrewed.

Due to the Easter weekend, Badger became unavailable to incorporate Allan Pangborn's 'expert' comments - or ignore them completely - so I have taken the liberty of adding them so that this article will be well-balanced with 'pros' and 'cons,' or 'ouis' and 'nons,' just like France.

Quercs©Badger - 'Cork facts'©Allan Pangborn
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