The Tasting Panel magazine

January / February 2018

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Page 97 of 124

january/february 2018  /  the tasting panel  /  97 W ine closures have increasingly evolved as a trending discus- sion in recent years. While natural corks have been around for centuries, issues with increased cork taint in the 1990s accelerated the expansion of screwcaps and synthetic corks into the world of fine wines. This loss in market share compelled the cork industry to invest heavily in research and development to improve quality while resolving linger- ing issues. As a result, new technology is constantly being introduced, which makes it difficult to stay up to date on where exactly the cork category stands today. With that in mind, it seemed pertinent to host a seminar entirely devoted to natural cork at the 2017 SommCon in San Diego. Master Sommelier and moderator David Glancy opened the seminar by noting that attendees would be "looking at differences in ageability, in faults, in consumer perception, and in sustainability." The panelists representing both the wine and cork communities included Peter Weber, Executive Director of the Cork Quality Council (CQC); Lisa Mattson, Director of Marketing for Jordan Winery; Katie Madigan, Winemaker for St. Francis Winery; and Jeff Meier, the President & Director of Winemaking for J. Lohr Vineyards. Each of the panelists, while admittedly advocates of natural cork, have decades of experience in their respective industries that imparted a personal perspective on the many top- ics discussed throughout the session. TCA-Free and the Future of Natural Cork It's especially interesting to consider just how far we've come in our knowl- edge of cork contamination and other wine faults in just the past two decades. In the 1990s, six cork companies came together to form the Cork Quality Council (CQC), a nonprofit devoted to improving cork quality by fostering research and implementing standards for the industry. "One of the first things we did was try to explore the different chemicals that were responsible for taint," Weber explained. With multiple compounds initially suspected, that research yielded ambigu- ous results. We now know the presence of the chemical compounds 2,4,6-tri- chloroanisole (TCA) can contaminate not just cork, but also barrels, pumps, pallets, and other materials employed in the winemaking process. As a direct response, guaranteed "TCA-free" corks have been recently introduced, with agglomerated corks like Diam among the first to enter the market. These corks are ground down so the particle batches can be tested before being molded back into a cork form. TCA-free punch corks, however, have proven more difficult to produce; they only became available in 2015, with Portocork and Amorim emerging as two of the industry leaders. Their rigorous testing can detect the pres- ence of TCA down to 0.5ppt (parts per trillion), well below the human thresh- old of 3–4ppt. Jordan Winery, a staunch supporter of natural cork, adopted the TCA-free ICON corks by Portocork just last year. "We're very excited," Mattson enthused. "We do think it's a few years away from being perfect, but so far we like what we're seeing." Since availabil- ity is still extremely limited, ICON corks make up only 10 percent of the winery's cork supply. They're also quite costly at $1.20 each compared with the industry average of $0.30, yet some wineries like Jordan already spend $1 per cork to ensure the highest quality possible. While the winery's leadership is intrigued by the promise of this innova- tive product, they're not completely confident in endorsing them quite yet. Jordan Winery has implemented its own extensive testing of corks for the last 40 years by evaluating them in batches for its 750ml/1.5L bottles and individually testing the corks for its large formats (3L and up). While the ICON corks are guaranteed to be TCA- free, they're still finding the compound in roughly 1 percent of these corks. Traceability is also a crucial metric for Jordan Winery, which has the time and date etched into each bottle in order to track them back to their source. There are 6,000 corks in each of Jordan's lots and its main cork sup- plier, Scott Labs, allows them to trace each lot to the forest level. This means that if the consumer opens a tainted bottle, they can send the winery team a photo and enable them to pull the lot number and locate the source. "We know that we don't have a 100 percent It's especially interesting to consider SommCon attendees compared Jordan Chardonnay's 2012 and 2015 vintages. Pictured is Lisa Mattson, Director of Marketing for Jordan Winery. Jordan is among the wineries that are already spending $1 per cork to ensure the highest quality possible. Master Sommelier David Glancy, Founder of the San Francisco Wine School, moder- ated the seminar.

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