Put a (Synthetic) Cork In It

Since the introduction of synthetic cork in the early 1990s, great debate has erupted over its environmental impact and its effect on the quality of wine.  Synthetic corks initially entered the market in response to an increase in natural cork prices. Natural cork can cost a winemaker upwards of 50 cents each compared to the synthetic version at seven cents. Besides the price differential, natural cork carries a natural mold called TCA that can taint as many as 12% of total wine bottles according to Wine Spectator. Many argue that despite the increased price and risks of TCA contamination, natural cork is more sustainable and therefore the better choice for winemakers. Even though natural cork may be slightly more sustainable, synthetic cork provides an alternative that is better for the consumer and in the best interest of wine enthusiasts around the world.


Natural Cork Production

Most of the world’s natural cork originates in Portugal, with some manufactures growing cork oak trees in Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and France. The total acreage of cork forests is second only to the Amazon rainforest in terms of size and species diversity, totally more than 6.5 million acres. The cork made for wine is a byproduct of the tree’s trunk and can only be harvested once every 10 years. Since synthetic cork was introduced to the market, several studies have been conducted comparing the environmental impacts of natural cork and its synthetic alternative.


The Carbon Footprint of Natural Cork

In 2008, a study was released by PricewaterhouseCoopers that found synthetic cork to be nine times more damaging to the environment in comparison to natural cork. This study, as well as the findings of every other notable study that is readily accessible online, was commissioned by Amorim, the world’s largest cork manufacturer. This study conducted by PWC assessed cork’s environmental impact on non-renewable energy consumption, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric acidification, formation of photochemical oxidants (which cause ozone layer depletion), the production of solid waste, and the loss of animal life. Of these factors, natural cork scored better on everything with the exception of water consumption.

While this study clearly examines the environmental impact of cork production it does not seem to consider the effects cork has on the environment after use. It is estimated that approximately 18 billion corks are produced annually, causing great concern for their recycling ability. Despite being the more “organic” approach, natural corks are very difficult to recycle for the same reasons that make them great wine stoppers. Because corks are designed to avoid the absorption of water, they are not compostable.

In 2005, Amorim launched a program called “ReCork America” through Whole Foods that aimed to educate the public about cork’s recycling ability. This program was introduced at Whole Foods’ Napa store and slowly spread through California and the Southwest. Recycling buckets were put on display for customers to drop off their used wine corks with the satisfaction that their waste would turn into the earth’s treasure. While true in that the corks were eventually going to be “recycled”, Amorim failed to effectively explain to consumers that the corks were to be sent back to Portugal to be resold again by Amorim to shoe, flooring, packaging, and insulation companies. After transporting the corks across the country, then across the Atlantic Ocean, the actual environmental impact of natural cork post-consumption is probably negligible at best.

The Carbon Footprint of Synthetic Cork

Synthetic cork is a compound made up of a food grade, high quality thermoplastic elastomer. Due to the food grade and high quality of molds in the material, synthetic corks create a TCA-free seal in the wine bottle. In accordance with the production of most plastic materials, synthetic corks are not biodegradable; however, Supreme Corqs, the largest producer of synthetic corks in the world, make recyclable corks for over 1,800 wineries across South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Unlike natural cork, synthetic cork can be collected and easily recycled along with other plastic materials.

The Effects of Synthetic and Natural Corks on Aging Wine

Most studies related to the effects of cork type on the aging process recommend that wines corked with a synthetic material should be consumed within 5 years of bottling. This is mainly due to the cork’s porous material that allows air to penetrate and enter the bottle overtime. As mentioned previously, it is impossible to purchase a “corked” bottle of wine that has been stopped with synthetic material. For wine that is meant to be consumed within the next 5 years, it could be argued that customers should demand synthetic corks to ensure they receive a TCA-free bottle. The positive attributes of synthetic cork far outweigh the negative for younger vintages of wine.

Natural corks allow for better aging of wine because of their complete airtight seal. Despite this advantage, wineries can lose thousands of cases of wine per year to TCA contamination from natural corks. It is impossible to predict what bottles are going to be contaminated, as it is a random occurrence that appears naturally in cork material.

Synthetic corks are the most logical choice for the majority of wines on the market today. For wines that are made with the intention of being consumed within the next several years, synthetic cork should be used to avert any risks associated with TCA contamination. According to wine expert Kevin Zraley, less that 1% of wine should be aged more than five years, suggesting that essentially all of the 18 billion wines produced annually should be corked with a synthetic material to preserve the integrity of the wine. The environmental concerns surrounding the use of synthetic cork are valid, yet the use of natural cork does not provide a worthwhile alternative. 



Bonne, Jon. “Recycling Your Wine Corks.” The San Francisco Chronicle. 14 Nov. 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://blog.sfgate.com/wine/2008/11/14/recycling-your-wine-corks/&gt;.

Easton, Sally. “Cork Is the Most Sustainable Form of Closure, Study Finds.”Decanter.com. 4 Dec. 2008.      <http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/485297/cork-is-the-most-sustainable-form-of-closure-study-finds>.

O’Donnel, Kim. Wine Cork Recycling and a Bigger Conversation. The Washington Post, 4 Mar. 2009. Web. 14 Oct.         2011. <http://voices.washingtonpost.com/mighty-appetite/2009/03/wine_cork_recycling_and_a_bigg.html&gt;.

Zraley, Kevin. “Myth or Fact? The Older the Wine the Better.” Web log post. Delish. 23 July 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.delish.com/food/zraly-wine-blog/myth-fact-ageability-of-wine&gt;.

 “Synthetic Cork.” Professor’s House. Web. <http://www.professorshouse.com/Food-Beverage/Wine/Articles/Synthetic-Cork/&gt;.


RECIPE: Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn

This is the best game-day snack you have ever and will ever eat. Period. It combines salty and sweet flavors with crunchy and soft textures. To make this recipe, you need minimal ingredients and even though I have included a recipe for making homemade caramel, you may of course purchase a prepared version. I will guarantee that all of your friends with souls will enjoy this decadent snack.

Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn

– 1/2 cup popcorn kernels

– 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil

– 6 oz. bacon, chopped

– 1/2 cup raw cashews, unsalted

– 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

– 1 black tea teabag

– 1 1/2 cups sugar

– 1/4 cup water

– 2 tbsp light corn syrup

– 1 tsp salt, coarse

– 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Heat popcorn and oil in covered, large pot over medium-high heat  until all the kernels are popped.

3. Cook bacon in heavy skillet until crisp. Lay bacon on paper towel to soak up excess oil. Toss the bacon, popcorn, and cayenne pepper in large bowl. Season with coarse salt.

4. Place tea bag into a barely boiling pot of cream. Let the teabag steep in the cream for about 15 minutes. Press on the teabag occasionally to release flavor.

5. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with nonstick spray. Coat 2 wooden spoons or spatulas with nonstick spray and set aside.

6. Stir the sugar, water, and corn syrup in large saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves.  Increase heat to boiling and do not stir until the sugar turns to deep amber. Remove from heat and immediately drizzle on popcorn mixture.

7. Place the caramel corn in the oven and bake until caramel is shiny and coats the popcorn, tossing the mixture occasionally to break up large chunks.

Source: Colt and Gray (September 2010) and reprinted in CIA’s Contemporary Topics in Culinary Arts Course Guide.

RECIPE: Assorted Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese and Orange Segments

This fall salad is the perfect side dish for a BBQ or dinner party. It is easy to make and requires minimal alterations to the ingredients. The earthy flavors of beets are fantastic with the fresh juiciness of orange slices and texture of the goat cheese. Some of the ingredients presented below are optional; for example, the fine brunoise of orange rind is a garnish and may be omitted altogether if its bitterness is undesirable. If you do decide to include the orange rinds, you must blanched them three times to remove as much bitterness as possible. Blanching instructions are presented within the method below.

Assorted Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese and Orange Segments

[Yields 12 portions]

–          3 pounds beets, assorted colors

–          ½ cup water

–          3 ounces extra virgin olive oil

–          2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

–          4 ounces goat cheese

–          2 oranges, segmented

–          1 ounce orange rind, blanched three times, cut fine brunoise (1/16 in x 1/16 in)

–          1 ounce chives

–          Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Scrub beets and remove excess dirt. Place in a hotel pan or aluminum pan taller than the beets themselves. Add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt and olive oil. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook for approximately one hour, or until a sharp knife can pierce the beet with no resistance. Once cooked, rub the skin off with a towel as soon as possible to maximize ease while they are hot. Slice beets into 1 inch wedges. Toss beats separately by color with red wine vinegar and salt. 
  2. Segment oranges as shown in the photos below.             
  3. Blanch the orange rinds by immersing them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Immediately place the rinds in ice water to stop the cooking process so they do not get soft. Repeat three times. Cut into a fine brunoise, or 1/16th of an inch by 1/16th of an inch. Be sure to trim off all of the white part of the orange rinds before blanching. 
  4. Combine the goat cheese with orange segments and beets as close to service as possible. If tossed too far in advance, the beets will absorb the cheese and its white color. 
  5. Garnish salad with orange rinds and chives. 

The Top 4 Reasons to Roast a Chicken

1. It’s Cheap

2. It’s Easy

3. It’s Healthy

4. It’s Delicious

Undoubtedly, the best way to cook a whole chicken is to roast it. In order to properly explain my logic, I have divided this post into four parts.

It’s Cheap

To roast a whole chicken, the only equipment necessary is a large saute pan. The fancy roasting racks you see on TV are unnecessary so long as you buy a chicken that will fit into your saute pan. The only ingredients you need (besides the chicken itself) are:

– butter

– salt and pepper

– lemon, cut in half

– herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, bay leaf)

– 2 Carrots, peeled, 1 inch dice

– 2 Stalks of Celery. 1 inch dice

– 1 Onion, 1 inch dice

It’s Easy

(1) First, trim the chicken so that any extra fat that may be inside the cavity of the bird is removed. (2) Next, rub a stick of whole butter around the entire chicken, making sure to cover every inch of skin. (3) Then season it generously with salt and pepper. (4) Place the lemon halves and herbs inside of the chicken. (5) The final step in roasting a chicken is probably the most difficult: trussing. Trussing a chicken (or any meat for that matter) before roasting it is important to ensure even browning and cooking throughout the entire bird. Watch the video below for the best and fastest demonstration. This video is pretty accurate although she forgets to tuck the chicken wings into the twine. The wings must be tucked in so that the tips do not burn.



(6) Cut the carrots, celery, and onion into 1 inch pieces. Pile the vegetables into the middle of the saute pan so that the chicken rests on them. The whole point behind roasting is to have hot air circulate around the entire bird so make sure it is not touching the bottom of the pan. (7) Place the chicken into the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. (8) Take the chicken out of the oven and baste with juices in the saute pan. Adjust the chicken so that it is sitting evenly on the vegetables. (9) Roast the chicken for another 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 170 degrees. (10) Remove the chicken from the oven and let it sit for approximately 10 minutes before carving. Resting the chicken is important to ensure that the bird retains its moisture and the juices do not run.

It’s Healthy

Unlike deep frying and pan frying, roasting does not require the use of oil. The added fat is limited to the butter used to moisten the chicken skin. You may be asking yourself how I am going to explain that roasting is healthier than grilling or sauteing. Instead of addressing that issue, I will simply begin to explain why:

It’s Delicious

Roasting a chicken is delicious because of the crispy skin that forms from the use of butter and a high oven temperature. The meat remains hot and moist and cooks evenly. A roast chicken is perfect for a dinner party because it can serve approximately five people (depending on the size of the bird) and also allows guests the opportunity to choose between white and dark meat. Who doesn’t love hot, crispy, and salty chicken?

Wine Review: Salvestrin

Located on the southern edge of St. Helena, Salvestrin Winery is proof that this town produces some of the best wines in the Napa Valley. I recently visited Salvestrin with some friends from New York who arrived to the Valley with incredibly high expectations for their three day visit. After visiting six wineries in our whirlwind trek up and down the valley, we all agreed that Salvestrin was the best combination of atmosphere, genuine hospitality, and wine.

Salvestrin Winery was established in 1932 by John and Emma Salvestrin who arrived on vacation from Italy and essentially never looked back. They purchased the 26-acre plot of land and began cultivating grapes for wine production immediately following the end of prohibition in 1933. Since then, the winery has been passed down through three generations and is currently operated by Rich and Shannon Salvestrin. Rich is the winery’s owner, viticulturist, and winemaker (in that order) and produces 100% estate grown organic varietals.

The first wine we tasted was their 2010 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($22). I typically do not like white wines but this was a truly exceptional Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and despite being aged in neutral oak barrels, has a bright and crisp tropical fruit flavor. The aroma is almost as pleasant as the taste, highlighted by white peach and bright fruit scents. This Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect summer day drinking wine and is easy to drink because of its dry, crisp finish. Trust me when I say that if you are not a white wine drinker, you will still enjoy this (very well-priced) Sauvignon Blanc.

The 2008 Estate Retaggio ($36) is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc. In Italian meaning “legacy”, the Retaggio combines the best of Tuscany (Sangiovese) and Bordeaux (Merlot, Cab Sauvignon, and Cab Franc) to create a wine with fantastic body and punch coupled with the smooth finish that characterizes the wine’s Bordeaux varietals. The 2008 Estate Retaggio contains a fair amount of acidity, making it a very food-friendly wine that would pair well with a variety of dishes. This wine is also exciting enough to be consumed on its own.

It should also be noted that the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Petit Syrah wines are also included in the tasting but I decided to omit in the interest of article word count and what I believed to be a overly tannic finish to both wines. Despite my personal opinion, their Cabernet Sauvignon consistently scores well with Robert Parker so definitely try it out. If you do visit the winery, be sure to persuade them to open a bottle of their 2007 Estate 3D Cabernet for a very well-balanced and simply awesome cabernet.

Why your coffee choice says a lot about you

A trendy urbanite never utters the words “drip coffee with extra cream” aloud. Conversely, one would presume, not too many espressos are consumed in Middle America. Despite these obvious stereotypes, your coffee preferences and all of its accoutrements say a lot about your personality.

Since coffee shops are the meeting place for many first encounters, including job interviews and first dates, you should choose your beverage wisely. Let’s face it: coffee is an acquired taste. Like blue cheese and brussel sprouts, you are not born liking coffee. The routine of consuming coffee is usually hatched out of necessity during high school or college when large amounts of coursework require the use of caffeinated beverages. You may not think of it, but your coffee choice reflects who you are, or more precisely, who you want people to think you are.

Take for example, drip coffee. This form of coffee is the most widely consumed and cheapest form of coffee you can order. Order a drip coffee if you want to exude a sophisticated lifestyle, but don’t have the time to waste on standing around waiting for milk to steam. You are simple, yet refined, possibly opting to take your coffee black, no sugar. No frills, no time to waste on the details. You need caffeine, and you need it as soon as possible.

Order a latte when you want people to know you have been around the [figurative] coffee-shop block. You know exactly what you’re getting into and it’s exactly what you want. You want the smoother taste of espresso and instead of taking it with cold milk, you would like it steamed. After all, there is no sense in mixing hot coffee with cold milk.

A cappuccino is essentially a souped-up version of the latte. By ordering a cappuccino you tell the world that you are a true coffee aficionado. You enjoy the finer things in life, and never skimp on the details. Every choice you make is thought out and deliberate. Consuming coffee is just another chapter in your fashion-forward, artistic, and lavish lifestyle.  Why order a shot of espresso with milk when you can get it with milk and a half dollop of foam? Order it with soy milk or add a few crystals of sugar in the raw to really accent your artistic tendencies.

An espresso should never be ordered unless you speak with an accent other than American. If you order an espresso, you spent a few too many weeks abroad in Florence during your sophomore year at Berkeley. Instead of being sophisticated like the cappuccino drinker, you are undoubtedly wasteful, spending the same amount of money only to consume a beverage that is one third its size. The worst part of a drinking an espresso is that the doll-sized tea cups require your pinky to flow freely from the rest of your fingers. Pinkies down, please.