Until the mid-1990s, virtually all wine bottles were sealed with cork stoppers. Despite attempts to introduce alternatives such as ROTE (roll-on tamper evident) or ROPP (roll-on pilferproof) aluminum lids, also known as screw caps, the wine industry has been hesitant to adopt these changes. This raises the question: What is the eternal charm of cork?
Cork odor has always been a challenge in the wine industry, resulting in the ritual in restaurants of offering a small sample to customers before serving the drink. However, cork smell became a significant problem, especially in regions such as Australia, which seemed to receive lower quality corks. With the expansion of the wine market in the 1990s, demand for cork grew, but quality control became a greater concern.
The turning point began in the mid-1990s with the appearance of the first plastic corks. In 2000, capsules gained popularity in Australia, which quickly adopted this sealing method. However, why has the wine industry remained loyal to cork for so long?
Part of the answer emerged during testing of various alternatives. Unlike spirits, wine is highly sensitive to oxidation and has complex post-bottling chemistry. Sealing a bottle of wine isn't just about keeping the liquid in and the air out.
By opting for plastic corks, producers were looking for an effective seal against air and liquids, without the risk of cork odor. However, plastic allows gas to diffuse, resulting in an oxygen transfer rate (OTR). For early plastic corks, this meant that wines could oxidize quickly, although some robust reds show greater durability due to phenolic compounds.
Wine, due to its sensitivity to oxidation, requires special attention. Compared to many other beverages, wine faces unique challenges. The mystery behind cork's continued appeal appears to lie in the complexity and delicacy of wine's nature, prompting the industry to continue to explore and perfect sealing methods that preserve its distinctive quality.
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