page contains bits of info which make up the basics of Winoism.
Study this page and you, too, can win friends and impress people with
your knowledge of wine. Some of this info has been
"borrowed" from other sources. Because of our high
level of journalistic integrity (and because of our lack of legal
resources), we attempt to give credit to the original source when we
Cork - 101
The Cork - Part II
The Cork - The Final Chapter
Glossary and Pronunciation Guide
weekend I read the book, "Essentials of Wine- A Guide
to the Basics" by Harvey Steiman of the Wine Spectator and
volume XIX No. 4 of “The Wine Journal”.
Both had articles on the cork controversy. Is synthetic better than natural? Until I read the article in the Wine Journal, I was an
advocate of the synthetic cork. The
two driving forces were the fact that 5-8% of wine is dead on arrival
due to the cork and I understood that the natural cork supply was in
article addressed both of these issues to my satisfaction and has me
coming up big on the side of the natural cork.
I also learned the life cycle of the cork.
I know that for many of you, this is common knowledge, but
indulge me a little. Here are a few facts about cork:
comes from the bark of Quercus suber, the cork oak tree, that is
indigenous to the southern Iberian Peninsula of Portugal. The
industry has been centered on the sunny montados, the savanna-like
landscape of the Alentejo region.
takes 40 years for the bark to thicken to about 3 inches before it
can be harvested.
1680, a lump of olive oil soaked hemp was jammed into the bottle
as a stopper.
Dom Perignon was the first to place a cork in his bottles of
is the world’s largest producer of natural corks producing about
10 million corks per day.
bottle cork is the most profitable use of the bark and fetches
about twelve cents a piece in bulk.
chemical TCA is the agent, when contacting the wine, which renders
corks are a medical grade thermoplastic polymer.
wine industry will use about 14 billion corks this year.
Corq. Inc is the leader in synthetic cork production. Based
in Seattle, Washington, there are rumors that Bill Gates is a
large investor in the firm.
the turn of the century, 3 cork oak trees were planted at Geyser
Peak Winery in California. Today,
one tree remains, it has never been harvested.
the first harvest, 40 years after planting, it takes 9 years for
the bark to thicken for a second harvest.
stave off the devastating financial impact the synthetic cork
could have on the Portuguese economy, Amorim has agreed to
discontinue the use of the chemical TCA in cork production.
1999, a process using microwave radiation on the natural cork was
developed, eliminating the need for TCA to kill molds that could
taint the wine. Wines
being bottled in 2000 will carry this new cork treatment.
by WinoBob - 9/10/00
Cork - Part II
can go bad for all kinds of reasons, most of which are betrayed by the
way they smell. If they develop acetic acid, they smell like vinegar. If
they contain hydrogen sulfide, they smell like rotten eggs. If the
Brettanomyces yeast affects them, they smell like wet dogs, saddle
blankets, or horse manure — though some people like that (especially
if they're French).
most common kind of wine spoilage, however, is beyond the control of a
winemaker — and is also one of the hardest flaws to identify.
That's when a wine is "corked," or ruined by a bad stopper.
corked wine smells like a damp basement, mildewed books, or — in the
mind of wine.com Senior Wine Merchant Jeff Prather — "your
grandmother's attic." Basically, we're talking mold: a problem
that, according to recent estimates, contaminates as much as 7 percent
(about one out of every 15) of all bottles of wine.
sometimes found in the bark of Quercus suber, the cork tree, which is
raised commercially in Portugal, Spain, and North Africa.
Processed cork can also pick up mold if stored in humid conditions; mold
spores, after all, are found almost everywhere. In any case, it wreaks
havoc in wine when it encounters the chlorine chemicals that, ironically
enough, have traditionally been used to sterilize corks. A compound
inadvertently produced by this confrontation — trichloranisole, or TCA
— results in a dank, musty smell that can be detected by the human
nose in concentrations as tiny as six parts per trillion.
people don't recognize corkiness for what it is," says Prather.
"They just think it's bad wine and as a result, they decide they
don't like that winery, or that winemaker, or that type of grape, or
wine from that country. Corked wine can also take the blame for other
problems, like oxidation or Brettanomyces or volatile acidity. It's
probably the wine world's worst enemy."
contemporary cork manufacturers have now abandoned bleach, opting to
clean their corks with hydrogen peroxide or sulfur dioxide or even
ozone. Chloroanisole chemicals, however, are also found in other
products — for example, pesticides employed in (cork) forests and
preservatives applied to wooden storage pallets. Jack Squires, vice
president of Napa's Amorim Cork America (its parent corporation is the
world's biggest cork producer) says that his company has discovered
corks contaminated by their shipping containers — a problem that also
affects beer and coffee. "Now we only use stainless-steel
pallets," Squires reports.
also use a Gas Chromatogram Mass Spectrometer, which can detect TCA in
concentrations of only one part per trillion. "We reject a lot of
corks," announces Squires, who, despite such recent advancements in
the battle against corkiness, still stops short of guaranteeing 100
percent taint-free wine closures for the immediate future.
"Cork is not a magic product that appears out of thin air,"
says Prather. "When you extract it from tree bark, it's brown and
organic with bugs in it. It takes nine years for a cork tree to replace
its bark — and in nine years and a day we strip it all over again. We
use the bark to stopper a wine that took years of work to make, then age
it for five or ten or 20 more years and finally invite our best friends
over to drink it, only to have the whole evening ruined by a bad
Cork - The Final Chapter
week, wine.com Senior Wine Merchant Jeff Prather began to work himself
into a lather on the subject of natural corks — a method of sealing
wine bottles that, he says, shows "we're still stuck in a medieval
to Prather, this is literally true because "the last [accepted]
improvement in wine-closure technology was three or four hundred years
ago." That's when Dom Perignon, a French Benedictine monk, drove a
piece of cork bark into the neck of a wine bottle, instead of banging
the (then traditional) oil-soaked rag into the bottle with a wooden
it was a great innovation in the 17th century, a porous and spongy cork
is hardly an ideal way to seal a bottle. To keep the cork swollen and
tight, a wine bottle must be stored horizontally. Still, mold and/or
chemicals on the cork contaminate as many as one out of 15 bottles.
would you want to spend 25 dollars on a bottle of wine and then have it
ruined by a 25-cent piece of bark?" Prather asks. "Wineries
put years of work into their products and spend millions of dollars
marketing them — and meanwhile, we're raping the cork forests of
solution echoes the career advice offered to Dustin Hoffman in the 1967
movie "The Graduate": "Plastics."
"Plastic doesn't have the organic problems of cork," says
"Modern artificial corks don't change the taste of wine at all —
we now have neutral food-grade polymers that don't break down in contact
with wine's alcohol or acidity. The long-term effects on aging are still
being tested, though, so we won't know that for 10 or 20 or 50
the biggest producers of synthetic stoppers in the United States is
SupremeCorq of Kent, Washington, which defines its product as an
"injection-molded, closed-cell thermoplastic elastomer."
According to Vice President of Sales Marla Rosenberg, Merlot and
Cabernet Sauvignon aged for five years under such stoppers "is
respected, well-known California wineries as St. Francis and Bonny Doon
now seal all their wines with plastic closures. St. Francis' marketing
director Nan Fontane says that the winery made this decision after
losing a substantial amount of wine (including "a high
percentage" of reserve Chardonnay) to tainted corks.
"We wanted to make sure that our wine would reach people in the
condition it was meant to," Fontane explains. "If you're
looking for an excellent seal, plastic has all kinds of advantages. You
can store your wines upright because you don't have to keep the cork
wet, and removal is always consistent. Conventional corks tend to break
in half or crumble."
says most of the feedback about plastic stoppers has been positive.
"There were some Puritans who said they needed to smell the cork
and would never buy our wine again," she reports. "We weren't
going to win those people over, even though sniffing a cork doesn't give
you an accurate impression of a wine's bouquet at all."
stoppers are now widely used in Europe, Australia, South America, South
Africa...almost everywhere, it seems, except the United States.
"Most American wineries' marketing departments are afraid that
they'll be perceived as cheap," Rosenberg explains.
Prather, that's merely evidence of our "prehistoric stubbornness
and stupidity and dogged loyalty to something called 'tradition.'
Longing for your hunk of bark is just as backward as people in Dom
Perignon's time longing for their oily rags." Wine.com
with the basics. If you’re going to bring a bottle of wine home after
reading any of the reviews on WinoStuff (or any other reputable website or
publication), you’re not going to turn the spigot on one of those box wines.
You’ll need a reliable corkscrew.
The classic corkscrew that you see many waiters use is a knockoff of the
Chateau Laguiole corkscrew. Manufactured
for over five centuries (centuries, what a concept for us Americans!) in Thiers,
France, these are the devices that have a small knife blade on one end for
cutting the foil, a corkscrew worm for the cork, and a leverage bar contoured to
the lip of the bottle. I like these
tools for their all-around, handy-dandy convenience, but I don’t recommend
them for the beginner or for the Wino who likes to quickly open a bottle.
You can buy the original Chateau Laguiole corkscrew for about $90
(handmade with rosewood inlays) or a knockoff for $2.
It doesn’t really matter which you use as long as you get the job done.
If you want to do the job quicker, I would recommend a foil cutter ($2 to
$3) and a screwpull device. The
original screwpull sells for about $20 (#3110 at www.wineenthusiast.com).
It fits over the lip of most bottles and provides a stable base to turn
the Teflon-coated corkscrew. These
two items will do the job.
is the high-end hybrid bottle opener, corkscrew. It is the typical,
garden-variety device that you can buy in any grocery store. The
large handle on top makes it easy to screw into the cork and the levers
make the extraction process a breeze for novices.
Consider this a corkscrew with training wheels.
call this The Terminator; it never met a wine cork it couldn’t extract.
This gadget is for mechanical engineers and you need to review the half
hour instructional video to make sure all your body parts are clear prior to
want to get the job done effortlessly and have an unlimited budget, buy the Estate or
Champion opener (#3146 at www.wineenthusiast.com)
for approximately $99.
This is The Mother of All
Corkscrews. This thing comes with a rad pair of safety
goggles. Please professionals only, this will chew you up and spit
you’ve got the basics down on opening the bottle of wine, what other equipment
do you need? I think a valuable
piece of equipment for any Wino is the basic Vacu-Vin wine saver system.
The Vacu-Vin allows you to pump out the air in an opened bottle so that
it stays fresh longer. Unlike Wino
John and Wino Bob, I occasionally consume only a glass of wine.
I don’t like opening the more expensive bottles and pouring out the
spoiled wine a few days later, so I use my Vacu-Vin system to keep the wine
fresh until consumed. Basic system
comes with a hand pump and two stoppers for about $14 (#3125 at www.wineenthusiast.com).
I would also add two additional stoppers for about $5.
For those of you who are single, you can use this system when you’re
home alone, but always keep the line about needing to finish the bottle so that
the wine doesn’t spoil (just don’t let them know you have a Vacu-Vin!).
If you don’t own any wineglasses, go to a Target, Wal-Mart, or Kmart
and buy a pack of six or twelve. They’re
inexpensive and easily replaced, but are much classier and more practical than
paper cups. If you received some
crystal wine glasses with your wedding china and stemware, use them for the
fancier occasions, but I’d still own some inexpensive glassware that could
hold up at a party and which wouldn’t dent your wallet if someone broke a
glass. For the true aficionado, I
can only recommend Riedel crystal stemware.
Available through a number of proprietors, the Riedel glasses were first
designed by an Austrian engineer who recognized that the size and shape of a
wineglass could influence the bouquet, taste, balance, and finish of the wine.
Riedel Sommelier is the hand blown crystal version ($$$$) and Riedel
Vinum is the less expensive version. If
your favorite wine is a Chardonnay or a Cabernet, buy two of these glasses and
experience the difference.
those of you who are interested in tasting wine for the sake of tasting
(rather than for enjoyment with a meal), we present the following wine
tasting primer. This blurb was copied from the internet. (Can't
recall where, wine.com maybe. We had been doing a little
"tasting" ourselves.) Check out our reviews, taste the
wines yourself, and see if you agree with our esteemed panel of experts.
The "Tasting" in Wine Tasting
The first two aspects of wine tasting are sight and smell. Now's the time to taste all the things you
saw and smelled — and some you didn't — such as wine's sweetness, bitterness, astringency, and acidity.
Tasting wine, however, is different than just drinking it. Slower, noisier, and altogether less socially acceptable than a polite sip,
tasting is a specific process designed to aerate the wine and run it past the full range of taste buds. Here's how to do it:
Take a small sip of wine, drawing in enough air to make a light
slurping noise. Besides entertaining those around you, you're speeding up the vaporization to intensify the flavors.
"Chew" the wine (teeth not actually required) to move it all
around your mouth. Different parts of your tongue will taste different aspects of the wine, and you want to make sure to cover
Finally, either swallow or spit. If you plan to taste a lot of
wines, spitting can enhance your focus and extend your stamina. Have a bucket on hand if this is your strategy.
The basic parameters of a wine's taste are intensity, dryness or
sweetness, body, acidity, tannin, oak, and complexity. Refer to the wine.com Tasting Chart for the full scoop on each of these aspects of
tasting. Also see their Studies in Contrast samplers, which are designed to help you develop your own tasting skills by presenting
sets of two or more wines that differ in some specific way.
You often see
wines in stores or restaurants in large format bottles. Some of the
bottles appear only slightly larger than normal while others appear as
bloated as WinoBob's liver. Well, there are names for each of those
large formats and Wino Diana was kind enough to educate us on
are generally thought to age better in large format bottles. The
price for wine in these large bottles is usually higher on a per liter
basis as these bottles are often both scarce and collectible.
Famous Wine Guy and Honorary Wino, Robin Garr, included the following
summary in one of his 30 Second Wine Advisor newsletters...
conventions vary somewhat among wine regions, with the two standards
being Champagne and Bordeaux in France. In case you run into a big
bottle, here's a quick field guide to the larger sizes:
Magnum: 1.5 liters (two bottles)
Jeroboam: 3 liters (four bottles)
Rehoboam: 4.5 liters (six bottles)
Methuselah: 6 liters (eight bottles)
Salmanazar: 9 liters (12 bottles)
Balthazar: 12 liters (16 bottles)
Nebuchadnezzar: 15 liters (20 bottles)
Even larger sizes are occasionally seen, although they are very rare:
Solomon: 20 liters (28 bottles)
Primat: 27 liters (36 bottles)
Magnum: 1.5 liters (two bottles)
Marie-Jeanne: 2.25 liters (three bottles)
Double Magnum: 3 liters (four bottles)
Jeroboam: 4.5 liters (six bottles) *
Imperiale: 6 liters (eight bottles)
* Because of recent U.S. regulations limiting larger bottles to even
liter sizes, some modern red-wine "Jeroboams" are now 5 liters
rather than the traditional 4.5.
know that it is often difficult to pronounce wine related word,
especially some of those French words. So we have included this
handy pronunciation tool. (Actually, it's just a link to the Wine
Lover's Page glossary and pronunciation tool, but you found it here,
here to learn to pronounce your favorite wine-related
words... (Hint: Turn ON your speakers!)
find what you were looking for on the Wine Lover's Page? Try Merriam-Webster
OnLine. Type a word in to the dictionary field, click on Look
It Up, and bam!, you get a definition and, more
often than not, a little speaker thing like this
that you can click on to hear the word pronounced! Is technology
great or what?