Friday, December 26, 2014

That odd shaped package that was wrapped so beautifully and stood so proudly under the tree got whisked away by now and the wrapping was quickly reduced to trash. The people came and the people left too. It was nice to see everyone again to catch up on new jobs or old remember when stories. What remains are the empty beer and wine bottles and you are glad you remembered everyone’s favorite drink and most of all remembered to buy the stuff.  Holidays have a way to keep you sharp too. When it comes to wine, it is hard to keep up with the ever changing selection. How do you know what to buy besides by judging from the varied price tags? I have learned to keep away from the boxes and the plastics and start by going for the cork. After all, it is time to restock. New Year’s Eve is coming! There are no pretty presents to open to slow down the drinking.

I need to know more. Most wine makers used to put a cork in the bottle, not anymore. The age old wineries are fighting back and still are putting corks in it. Does it matter? There are even many screw top bottles out there.  We need to visit Portugal to find out what is so important about cork. Way down south there is an area called Algarve south of Lisbon. There are mountains there filled with fields of ancient giants. Giant cork trees. It is a form of oak tree but very different. The average tree is about 150 years old but there are some that go back as far as 400 or 500 years old. Families will own hillsides for centuries.  A tree has to be at least 40 years old before it will be harvested for cork. Here, they plant cork trees for their grandchildren. Yes, a tree can be a very valuable investment.

Cork is about an inch and a half layer peeled off the tree. It is the bark. Between May and August the bark is loose and comes off easily like a tube and somehow the bare tree doesn’t die. Cork can only be harvested every nine years. It takes that long for the bark to be an inch thick again. In other parts of the country the trees are in rows like orchards and tourists visit the trees. There is even a tourist line of roads called the cork route. Portugal produces 65% of the world’s cork. It exports 12 Billion corks per year. I guess lots of people like wine not just Aunt Rose. Before the year 20OO there were 9  out of every 10 bottles that were sealed with a cork. Now it is down to around seven bottles. The price can vary from 2 cents a   piece which would be cheaper than plastic to 2 dollars a piece that goes into expensive wine bottles.

Bottom line, when you open a bottle with a cork in it, you are drinking a quality wine. Top grade corks are still crafted by hand. To keep the industry alive, trendy is all of a sudden a word associated with cork. They are making all sorts of products out of cork these days. There is a cork umbrella. The company is called PELCORE for cork skin. Now the handbags are being exported to Europe and the United States. They have a cork baseball cap too. So on New Year’s Eve when I am collecting the wine corks especially if Aunt Rose shows up, and I make them into some kind of hat and actually wear it, you’ll know why. Hiccup!

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