What Makes a Good Cork?

18 05 2011

I’ve been under the weather for the past couple of days, which means no wine, which means no wine reviews, which means sadness for all involved (i.e. me).  But the show and the blog must still go on, so I thought tonight I’d delve into the all-important issue of what makes one cork better than another.  Corks are one of my favourite parts of the whole wine-drinking experience, which is partly why the cork always gets a presence in every PnP wine review — it’s always nice when a good bottle’s cork lives up to the wine within.  Some people have delicately suggested to me that the PnP Cork Ratings are harsh and arbitrary, and to those people I say:  that’s possibly true.  But if I were to make up cork-grading criteria after the fact that motivated the grades I gave every cork in Pop & Pour history, they would read something like this:

  1. Graphics:  Pictures, symbols and interesting script make a cork entertaining and give it artistic and not just utilitarian value.  A producer’s name in Times New Roman font makes me think they’re not even trying.  With all of the effort that goes into marketing and branding, in an industry featuring as much variety and competition as the wine world, plain boring corks with no graphic appeal just don’t cut it anymore.  And if you think picture-heavy corks are a New World phenomenon, think again:  my 3 favourite corks in PnP to date are all from the Old World (Germany, Austria, France) and all are made cool mainly by their predominant graphics.
  2. Use of Space:  Some top-end corks like this one from Villa La Selva use every available inch of canvas space the cork gives them; other solid efforts like this one from Ridge and this one from Habla are intentionally minimalist so as to make the space a part of the artistic impression.  I appreciate both approaches, especially when they match up with the style of the label, as discussed below.  What I appreciate less are corks like this one from KWV that hone in on the dead centre of the frame and dare not stray beyond it.
  3. Consistency With Overall Theme/Brand:  A wine’s cork should be an extension of its label, and if a wine is branded a particular way — sleek and modern, or fun and crittery, or historic and traditional — the cork should also reflect that.  This doesn’t just mean that the cork and the label shouldn’t clash; it means that if the label brand or artwork are actively working towards a particular theme, the cork should actively work towards that theme too.
  4. No Websites/Phone Numbers:  I admit that this one is strictly personal preference, but a producer’s website and telephone number seem like back label information to me, and I think the cork should be used like a wine’s front label.  I’m all for producers being interactive and for this info showing up somewhere on the bottle, but a cork is a winery’s chance to encapsulate its brand in a portable piece of art, and domain names and area codes are extraneous to that goal.
Now that I’ve rationalized my way through the 30-odd Cork Ratings I’ve done so far, here’s a recap of PnP’s Best of the Best and Worst of the Worst.  Let’s start on a positive note, with Pop & Pour’s top 3 corks ever, courtesy of Muller-Catoir, Willi Brundlmayer and one of the most derided wines on this blog to date, Pere Anselme’s Fiole du Pape CNDP:

Muller-Catoir: Killer graphic, rock star cork.

Brundlmayer: Simple, effective and brand-consistent.

Fiole du Pape: The best part of a $35 wine.

And now the dishonour roll, thanks to Edward Sellers, H. Stagnari and Woodward Canyon:

Sellers: The wine is called 'Le Thief' -- make the cork interesting!

Stagnari: The beige of corks.

Woodward Canyon: Looks like a Garage Sale sign.

OK, enough cork snobbery for one day…hopefully we’ll be back to looking at wine soon!



2 responses

19 05 2011

LOL the KWV just isn’t winning is it… 🙂 At least it didn’t make the ‘crappy cork’ list!

Now one day I’d be interested in your thoughts between a cork and a screwtop – are they messing with tradition when they move away from sealing the wine with a cork? For me popping the cork is syonoymous to the start of a wine enjoyment session, and you can’t pop a non-existent cork (ie. screwtop).



19 05 2011

I agree with you that it’s much more fun to pop a cork than twist a screwtop, and the cork works better with the romance and ritual associated with drinking wine, but there are definitely valid reasons for using a screwtop. The two main ones are probably that (1) screwtops dramatically decrease the incidence of “corked” bottles, which usually (though not always) are because of bacteria on natural corks, and (2) screwtops form a better air-proof seal than corks (which are somewhat porous) and thus provide better protection against oxidation. So there’s a strong argument to be made that corks are less practical and less effective at their function than screwtops, but they are definitely way cooler and more fun to use!


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