As Portugal is a major producer of high quality cork, in fact well over half of the world's cork wine stoppers come from Portugal's cork oak trees. Should we only buy cork bottled wine in order to support Portugal?

Some reports suggest that Portugal produces up to 40 million cork wine stoppers a day, and they are exported all over the World. In fact, some reports say that around 70 percent of wine corks come from Portugal, and this production goes back hundreds of years.

Cork is the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber L), that grows in Mediterranean regions such as Spain, Italy, France, Morocco, Algeria and, most particularly, here in Portugal, where there are more than 720,000 hectares of cork forests. Wherever you are located in the World, when you open a bottle of wine it’s highly likely to have a Portuguese cork. So when you say cheers, say thank you to Portugal.

As most people know, the cork tree is never harmed, every nine years the bark is striped off, and naturally grows back again. The best cork is from the first cutting, known as virgin cork, apparently the only cut suitable for Champagne. I say most people, as Marks and Spencer some years ago, switched to screw tops for their wine. They released a press release saying they had done this to protect cork trees as they had to be cut down to remove the cork. Ignorance is bliss!

There are other choices

However, there are other choices and screw tops and even boxed wines of three or five litres are available everywhere. Which is best? Is it simply a matter of convenience or is the traditional cork the only way to keep your bottle of wine in great drinking condition.

No reasonable person would ever consider a bottle of Champagne, irrespective of price, with a screw top. But for your everyday table wine, the screw top is very convenient, and so easy to re-seal the bottle for use in a day or two. Have you ever tried to put a cork stopper back in a half used bottle of wine? Not easy is it.

Then there is the question of quality. Is cork the best material to seal a good bottle of wine. ‘’Experts’ don’t all agree. Cork is super malleable, making it perfect for keeping wine bottles closed until you want to drink from them. It has been proven to hold up to long-term aging without compromising wine quality. It’s also the most environmentally friendly material to use. Cork is also two to three times more expensive than screw caps and breathes at variable rates so there is only a rare chance that your bottle is not properly sealed and goes bad.

What about screw caps

Screw caps were introduced in 1964 and quickly embraced by countries like Australia and North and South America. Jessica Ball, M.S., RD wrote in EatingWell “The first upside of using screw caps is that they are a fraction of the price of corks, so it is a great option for vineyards looking to reduce the cost of packaging. They also don't run the risk of "cork taint" ruining their bottles. They are a little bit too new to the market to say for sure, but preliminary studies have shown that they have positive results for long-term aging. In fact, some studies have found that they actually preserve wine better than corks! They are also easy to open without any equipment and can be closed tightly”.

I have never seen a Portuguese wine sealed with a screw cap, perhaps not surprising. Portugal is the home of cork, wine makers should support a national industry, someone will break ranks eventually, but it may be a while yet. What many local producers have readily embraced is the wine carton.

Wine in a box

Sommelier Business News reports, “There’s a stigma that’s drilled into everyone’s brain about box wine - its low quality. But is it really low quality? Everything that is on the cheaper side is automatically taken into consideration as low quality, or ‘not good enough’, especially in the world of wine. But surprise, that isn’t the case, especially when it comes to box wine”.

The idea started in South Australia but was quickly taken up by other countries wine producers. Actually, the wine isn’t contained in a cardboard box as it’s really in a sealed plastic liner. Originally wine in a box was considered to be of a lower quality, but in 2003, Black Box Wines introduced premium wines in a box beating the idea that boxed wines are the cheap, lower quality wines.

As the years have gone by, box wine is becoming more of a norm rather than something looked down at. However, that is only the case with people who know a lot about wine. The average wine consumer still related box wine with low quality wine. Sorry, but you are wrong.

You might be wondering if premium wines are packaged in a box, how are box wines still that cheap and affordable. The main reason box wines are cheaper is because the raw material used to produce box wine packaging costs less than that of the material used to make glass packaging. This doesn’t mean that the quality is compromised in box wine.

The problem is if you appreciate wine, and most of us do, there is a whole ‘mystique’ about opening a bottle of wine, savouring the aroma, and then bringing it to the table to serve. I can’t see many people bringing a box of wine to the table and fiddling with the plastic tap in order to fill a guest’s glass.

I must admit that for sheer convenience, I favour screw tops, feel free to tell me I am wrong.