Wine, Bottle and Sealing
Staff Writer - October 27, 2003
Isn't it amazing that a product so appreciated, so valuable as wine that is left to age sometimes for over a human lifetime is kept in such a fragile container as a glass bottle? In addition, our beloved and precious juice is protected from air contact and consequent decay by cork that, more often than we like to admit, ends up tainting and ruining what we have so preciously preserved for a very special occasion.
While R&D for products such as air conditioners or dish soaps have progressed from non-existent to highly sophisticated and complex, we enophiles have been left with bottle and cork to pack and preserve the beloved juice, the same tools that have been around for a few centuries now.
Fragile bottles aside, corks are a less than sterile scientific tool for the job of hermetic sealing they are expected to perform. The medical industry for instance, upgraded decades ago, acknowledging that corks were but a collector for microbes, on top of doing a sometimes lousy job.
But wine is a different kind of product! We have been taught that it needs to breathe through the cork in order to age gracefully.
Well, science has been contradicting this conception for some time now. Only a very small amount of air gets through the cork, and we must thank the wine gods for it, as bottle aging is absolutely not about oxidation, quite the contrary, it is about asphyxia. Avoiding contact with air is what gives aged wines their peculiar character.
New players in this arena include not only the screw tops that have been around for a while now and are leading the competition. This method preserves, protects and reseals the leftover wine wonderfully. Some among the upper end of quality wine consumers, as well as the large majority of cheap wine consumers accept screw tops cheerfully. But the large number of middle-of-the-road consumers look upon them with suspicion.
The crown cap used in soda bottles ia another contender, but it appears not to fare well. Once the bottle is open it must be drunk completely, as there's no way of putting it back to seal the leftover wine.
A new player in the wine sealing arena is called MetaCork, a capsule released this summer by Gardner Technologies of Napa, California, USA. This method still uses cork, either natural or synthetic, that is removed by twisting the entire plastic capsule. The capsule without the cork can than be returned to the bottle for drip-free pouring and it allows for the top part to be screwed back to reseal the bottle. Since it uses cork, it doesn't solve the problem of cork-taint, though, unless one chooses to use synthetic cork. The company is currently testing a cork-free sealing closure called MetaSeal that is scheduled for release next year.
ZORK is the latest wine closure method to hit the market. Invented by Australian Conor McKenna, it aims to get rid of cork taint once and for all. While natural cork is subject to TCA taint that produces the well-known musty flavors in wines, some synthetic corks have been found to impart a plastic flavor to the wines. The ZORK do not use any kind of cork. It was demonstrated sparingly this past July and its inventor is cagey about the details. All he says is that it's a safe seal, doesn't screw, requires no extra tool to open, and you can put it back on for a perfect seal. It also manages to preserve the typical "pop" when opening a bottle. Mr. McKenna is planning an evaluation release next year, so let's wait and see.