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Issue 68 - Cork uncorked

Whisky Magazine Issue 68
December 2007

 

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Cork uncorked

Whisky writer John Lamond delves into the issue of corks.

I must confess from the start: I am a dinosaur. A hopeless traditionalist. I like corks. I know all about the problem of whiskies – and wines – ruined, utterly destroyed by cork taint. I know that the theory is that a screwcap or synthetic cork should eliminate the problem, but I like to see a bottle closed by a natural cork. It is a natural thing.

Cork is the outer bark of the evergreen cork oak (Quercus suber).

This species covers 2.7 million hectares of Spain, southern France, Italy, The Mahgreb of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria and, especially, Portugal, which accounts for 51 per cent of world cork production.

In some Portuguese villages, such as Luzianes-Gare, some 100 miles south-west of Lisbon, up to 80 per cent of the inhabitants depend upon cork for their economic survival. The cork forests support more than just the people directly involved in the cork industry.

In the small town of Odemira (just to the west of Luzianes), Alcinda Catarina Jacinto has been making cheese all her life. She buys her milk from local farmers – milk from sheep and goats that graze beneath the cork oaks; her neighbours harvest honey from beehives in the cork forests; acorns from the cork oaks are used for animal feed; and fruit and berries go into other local produce.

The forests are also home to a rich variety of wildlife, including endangered species, such as the world's rarest (and Europe's only) big cat, the Iberian lynx, the Iberian imperial eagle in Spain and Portugal and the...

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