Put a cork in it! Claim: wine corks deteriorating due to ‘climate change’

From Science News: Wine corks may owe quality to gene activity

Discovery that distinguishes superior stoppers could help reverse global downturn

Even the most superb wine won’t last without its cork, but the quality of this renewable oaken resource has nose-dived in recent years. A new genetic study of trees that produce high- and low-quality cork divulges some clues behind this decline, hinting at a possible link to climate change.

A great cork safeguards a wine’s taste and its aging process, while inferior cork can taint the vino’s flavor. Cork is made from the protective outer layer of bark surrounding Quercus suber oak trees, which grow only in southwest Europe and northwest Africa. But the global supply of cork, a $2 billion industry, has faced problems with quality and competition. Synthetic wine stoppers and metal caps offer a cheap alternative and have boomed in popularity in recent years, but oaken corks are still preferred by wine aficionados.

More here: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/wine-corks-may-owe-quality-gene-activity

Some inconvenient FAQs on Corks:

Q. Isn’t there a cork shortage?

A. No in fact, based upon current estimates there is enough cork to close all wine bottles produced in the world, for the next 100 years. The cork forests are now being more sustainably managed than ever before in their history and new planting is always ongoing.

Q. What’s wrong with screw caps and plastic closures?

A. Screw caps are not made from a sustainable product; they are not actively being recycled in the US and are not biodegradable. In comparison to a natural cork, 24 times more greenhouse gasses are released and over and 10 times more energy is used when making one screw cap.

Plastic closures are made from petro-chemicals, are not biodegradable and are rarely recycled. They are not sourced from a sustainable product and produce 10 times more greenhouse gasses than natural cork to produce.

More: http://www.corkforest.org/faq_cork_facts.php

 

72 thoughts on “Put a cork in it! Claim: wine corks deteriorating due to ‘climate change’

  1. Ahh the old “can’t be or might not be recycled” furphy. Pray tell, if i chuck my used cork in the garbage as I suspect everyone else does,, how the hell would anyone know if it as being recycled?

  2. Sounds like special pleading by the cork industry to me. As a regular wine drinker I greatly prefer screw caps to corks as not only are they easier to use they are far less likely to fail allowing the wine to spoil. Given that they are mostly made with metals that are eminently recyclable the environmental impact is a red herring. If you really want to save energy the way to do that is wash and reuse the bottles, a practice that used to be the norm.

  3. Screw caps combined with plastic closures are more often used because the result after 5 or 10 years ageing of the wine is excellent. But people has to adapt that there is an alternative for the cork

  4. To keep corks from drying out because of global warming, they must be well hydrated. The warmunist fear mongers should be given the task of infusing water into wine bottle stoppers. They already are a bunch of cork soakers.

  5. increasing atmospheric [CO2] will aid cork forest regeneration. warmer temps will increase production of intracellular HSPs, leading to more “good” cork. grapes will grow better in more CO2.

    So it’s win, win, win …. if you believe in >CO2 –>> global warming.
    And even if its … global warming –>> more CO2 , it’s still win^3 for wine lovers.

  6. Previous studies have found that heat-shock proteins guard cork trees from ultraviolet light, high temperatures and drought — all of which have steadily become bigger problems in Portugal over the last century.
    =================
    no rise in temps since 1880………

  7. Here’s a market response from one person buying wine in the North Okanogan region of Washington State – a fine wine producing region, I might add. I won’t knowingly buy a bottle of wine that has a man-made stopper. Use them at your own peril.

    Corks do come in a range of quality and it is one of the things you takes your chances on, but I’ve personally found very few bad corks in the last 50 years and none in the last 20 years. There is a lot of crap out there that passes for wine, though.

  8. I have a pain in one of my little toes. Climate change strikes again and causes this pain in my little toes. I know this to be true because I never got pains in my little toes prior to 1950. Of course, I was not even living prior to 1950, but that is beside the point, surely.

  9. Don’t care, Soon you will see a study that finds out the wine also detoriates because of climate change. Accept it! We live in the best of times, all changes will make it worse, especially climate changes. :-)

  10. metal/plastic foil is typically added to bottles tops to protect the corks from drying out. There is more material involved in protecting the corks than simply using the same material as a screw top to eliminate the corks.

  11. Now Cork grows in more places than the two listed (Southwest Europe and Northwest Africa) I live in Sonoma County ane a number of Cork Oaks grow here quite well.

  12. So now we have to stop AGW to save the cork industry.
    Wow. You can see the next thing coming: they want special funding as AGW creates economic hardship for their industry. Now we have a study to prove it.
    I have a bottle with screw cap any time over a cork one.
    Ask any restaurant and they will tell you that they have far more bottles of wine being rejected by clients which had a cork then those with a screw cap.
    I am sure that the quality of the cork will also play a part in that, should do a study but lack the funding, but why take the chance.
    If cork quality is that important, and it is, to the aging process then these winemakers better make sure that they use good ones, otherwise use screw caps and be certain.

  13. I wonder if cork oaks are prone the sudden oak death syndrome. Cooler and wetter than normal conditions bring it on.

  14. As a lifelong and native resident of Cork City, Ireland I know more about Cork than most. In the last week or so I have been informed that redheads are on the verge of becoming extinct and no less an authority than Tyra Banks warns that full figured women will soon be a thing of the past. With the quality of Cork declining rapidly, I feel it prudent to move all the red headed, full figured women out of County Cork. The move won’t prevent the inevitable but it should buy the victims an extra year or two.
    I searched the internet for any refutation of Tyra Bank’s scientific expertise so I’m assuming she holds advanced science degrees. I have if on good authority that her upcoming book on climate change, working title “Does global warming make my butt look fat?” brings a new perspective to the issue.

  15. Centuries ago much of the ecology of the Iberian peninsular was destroyed to make way for cork oak monoculture. Surely a true Green would wish to change to recyclable caps and allow the original environment to regenerate?

  16. Metal screw caps most certainly are being recycled in the US as is almost everything metal. Even if you throw it in the trash, even if you threw it in the trash 50 years ago, it is being recycled today.

    And not biodegradable? It is just as biodegradable as natural free iron in the environment, doesn’t seem to be harming anything.

  17. Really?
    Whiny whackos whining about Catastrophic Anthropogenic Wine Cork Disruption?

    This isn’t environmentalism. It is overt mental illness.

  18. dp says:
    July 16, 2014 at 10:09 am
    “Here’s a market response from one person buying wine in the North Okanogan region of Washington State – a fine wine producing region, I might add. I won’t knowingly buy a bottle of wine that has a man-made stopper. Use them at your own peril.”

    Corks are most definitely man-made. Someone has to give them their shape, don’t you think so.

  19. Metal caps and plastic stoppers can be recycled if we will, cork can’t. But, on the other hand, when you toss your used cork it will biodegrade, metal and plastic are resistant to bio-degradation. You names yer pisin an yer takes yer pick.

  20. Ok, PANICWHINE about WINE. Watts et al, you know I love you guys and gals, but WINE? Please, NOT the CORKS!!! Sorry, but my palate is now in dire risk of drowning in inferior climate affected wine.
    New Panic Climate Alarmist.

    Peace! (or not so much, you all MUST be stopped at any costs! Save the WHINE!)

    :)

  21. I’m amazed that I heard Shepard Smith on Fox News (yesterday) attribute the cold temperatures in the midwest to “a thing climate change, have you heard of that?” Right. There’s no evidence at all that this cold is the result of global warming. It’s insane in fact, and this guy is on the supposed “fair and balanced” channel but is reporting just complete unsubstantiated hogwash. I mean, Fox is supposed to at least lean conservative, but to take an extreme position that the cold is caused by heat? I heard Shepard Smith might have some issues.

  22. Not a word about how much more expensive cork stoppers compared to others. The cork bark is difficult to work plus they can taint (as in contaminate) some wines. If you need to bottle other beverages, such as whiskeys, on the same bottling line, you run into engineering issues when you switch. The boxes the bottles are shipped must be stronger and care must be taken regarding how how they can be stacked. All in all, cork stoppers are just plain more expensive.

  23. Waitaminnit… I’m confused. They’re claiming that “Cork quality has been decreasing over the years”, “hinting at a possible link to climate change.” But then they say, “Good cork had a higher abundance of heat-shock proteins, which help other proteins form their correct shapes even under stressful conditions. Heat-shock proteins also aid cellular division, permitting the growth of thicker bark. Previous studies have found that heat-shock proteins guard cork trees from ultraviolet light, high temperatures and drought — all of which have steadily become bigger problems in Portugal over the last century.”

    So we’re getting inferior cork because global warming is causing trees to produce better cork?

    And they base all this on one-time sampling from ten trees?

    Well… I suppose it’s better than just looking at one Yamal tree.

  24. Got news for you, Anthony, about where cork oaks grow. My grandfather planted one next to the house here in western Washington in the 1940’s and today it is HUGE. As it was never trimmed to provide cork, it has multiple branches and requires often drastic pruning to keep it under control.

  25. GOOD! Maybe now they will begin selling it by the barrel. This one bottle at a time is for the birds!

    She said without a bit of vice in her.

  26. they can be stacked. All in all, cork stoppers are just plain more expensive.

    Carl “Bear” Bussjaeger says:
    July 16, 2014 at 12:03 pm
    Waitaminnit… I’m confused. They’re claiming that “Cork quality has been decreasing over the years”, “hinting at a possible link to climate change.” But then they say, “Good cork had a higher abundance of heat-shock proteins, which help other proteins form their correct shapes even under stressful conditions. Heat-shock proteins also aid cellular division, permitting the growth of thicker bark. Previous studies have found that heat-shock proteins guard cork trees from ultraviolet light, high temperatures and drought — all of which have steadily become bigger problems in Portugal over the last century.”

    So we’re getting inferior cork because global warming is causing trees to produce better cork?

    And they base all this on one-time sampling from ten trees?

    Well… I suppose it’s better than just looking at one Yamal tree.

    I think that the study of 12 trees likely indicated that for 11 of 12 the cork did better under stress but 1 tree produced the inferior cork. Like Yamal, this 1 tree is the source of the Doom and Gloom

  27. @ Eric Simpson –

    I think you might want to recalibrate your irony-meter.

    @ Harold

    It’s not just effete metrosexuals. Us hard-core drunks like wine, too.

  28. Screw caps are becoming very popular in the restaruant/bar business due to the simplicity of use and storage. For those who do not consume an entire bottle at opening, such as my 69 year old mother, screw caps are perfect. Personally, cork affected by climate change is just another way of validating price increases…its that old follow the money thing.

  29. I buy wine in bulk, in 5 liters Tetra Brik packages that come with a plastic faucet at the bottom. One of those with a rubber bubble you press and the wine drains off the Brik. The local Red Rioja wine goes for around $10 (7 €) at the farmers market. Since the Brik is too bulky to put it on the table, I have a bottle with a recycled cork which I refill every 3 – 4 days.

    That kind of packaging is gaining popularity around here.

  30. In days-gone-by I helped out at a premium winery in Western Australia and commented that they were using plastic ‘corks’ not wooden ones. I was told that the failure rate of corks (by failure, they meant allowing air to pass through and spoil the wine) was such that they were spending more on a special plastic stopper because they wanted to keep their good name for consistent quality. They admitted that screw caps were by far the best option, but that no-one would pay premium prices for wine in screw-capped bottles, whatever the quality of the wine.

    What I have noted recently, however, is that more and more premium priced wines are on the shelves with a screw cap, suggesting that people are not as snooty any more. I think the wine-buying public are getting a bit more savvy these days that you don’t always get better wine by paying more money.

  31. Ding, Ding, Ding! We have a winner here. “Deteriorating wine corks” is not currently listed as one of the many things caused by global warming.

    Don Pardo, please tell our contestant what he’s won …

    I see a new time-waster here, the “Warming Whack” contest, similar to Googlewhack, where you try to find some dire consequence not already linked to Global Warming. Winners get a research grant.

  32. Well cork is also a highly preferred material to make the handles of fishing rods, specially good fly rods. No substitute even comes close.

    But these days, all you can buy to make rods, is crap; full of large voids, and easily broken.

    The properties that make cork ideal for wine stoppers, also makes the best fly rod handles. Can’t buy fly rod corks (rings) anywhere near as good as the average wine bottle cork.

    But fly rods don’t amount to a hill of beans, compared to wine corks.

  33. Years ago I did volunteer work for a women’s rights organization ’cause I thought it might be a great way to meet a sophisticated young woman. Now, for those of you who haven’t ripped their insides to shreds in laughing at what I just wrote, let me assure you that women do not; repeat – do not; join women’s rights organizations with the intention of meeting a man.

    Anyway, it was a non-partisan organization but very politically involved. And we (or, should I say all the women in the organization and their mascot male – me) were at a high falutin’ big bucks political rally at a high priced gallery on Chicago’s near north side. The big shots were all there including a mayoral candidate from the city’s top Irish law firm, congressional reps, you name it. Anyway, rather than allow their mascot male, me, to embarrass the organization they figured, since they knew I’d had plenty of experience with alcohol, they’d plant me safely behind a bar doing bartender duty. How hard could it be, they thought? How hard could it be, I thought? Little did I know that opening a corked bottle of wine was quite a bit different than opening a can of beer. Little did they know that the one task they thought I wouldn’t embarrass them doing was also one in which I could excel at that as well.

    I have little doubt that the deterioration in wine cork quality can be attributed to the reduced use of wine corks compared to screw tops and, unlike a rising tide that lifts all boats, it’s a case of rising embarrassment sinks all corks. Blame it on me. Not global warming.

  34. LeeHarvey says:
    July 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    @ Harold

    It’s not just effete metrosexuals. Us hard-core drunks like wine, too.

    —–

    But you drunks won’t know the difference between a designer pre-industrial artisanal cork and an industrial anthropocene GMO cork.

  35. No corks left here in Australia. Once wine drinkers got used to screwcaps the winemakers fell over themselves to change over.

    Just shows how the climateers are behind the curve again. Nearly 18 years of no global warming and they are moaning that global warming will endanger our corks?

    Well there is not global warming here in Oz, there are no corks and very soon there will be no carbon tax.

  36. Yep, Bruce, the demise of corks couldn’t have come soon enough for me! Horrible things – I shudder to remember the ones that disintegrated as you tried to get them out, meaning that your wine (when you finally were able to get to it) was sprinkled with tiny, irremovable bits of cork.

    The Stelvin cap is one of the great inventions of my lifetime. And it makes resealing a partly consumed bottle a breeze, which both home users and restaurants that sell by the glass appreciate.

  37. I am sure most of you have seen this, but just in case, I think this is way more valid evidence than the length of your corkscrew-

  38. Ridiculous!!!! The bung pluggers union, both beer and whiskey barrels, will never accept the wine-ies having priority access to cork.

  39. “… hinting at a possible link to climate change.”

    So this this prove that cork trees can be psychologically affected by the “Jedi Mind Trick” ?

  40. Relieved that rumours of the death of corkage have been exaggerated. I shall cancel my subscription to S.E.T.I. secure in the knowledge that Terrestrial Intelligence is alive and well at least among my fellow oenophiles. I am applying for a government grant to study the impact of Champagne corks on the mating habits of Mangrove Cuckoos in a climate changing world and need a comely assistant to paddle my canoe and sip champagne..

  41. Figures. It just figures. All that hoo-haa about cork only growing in one area, and I read in the comments that it just ain’t so. If cork only grows in that one area it’s because people didn’t plant trees elsewhere. When somebody DOES plant a tree elsewhere– it grows there too. Who knew?

    I wonder now, how many crops do we have that only come from one area of the world do that because they HAVE to grow there and nowhere else, and how many grow there only because nobody has tried to grow it anywhere else.

  42. “Harold says:
    Even if true, who other than a bunch of effete metrosexual .001%ers gives a flying cork?”

    If I have a major biodegradable beef on the content 0f this site – which is typically excellent, especially when it highlights Godzilla and/or cow flatulence – I’d have to say it is – there is just too much hoity-toity wine talk. Perhaps it is all the international/worldwide influence here. Listen folks – only Murica and Eriador matter. Wine is unheard of in Eriador – an elf visiting on holiday might be caught sipping it once in a while, but they have always been strange like that and we never take them seriously – and a dwarf would throw away his ax and sit down to supper with a Goblin rather than drink wine. As for Murica – true Muricans only quaff the finest hops & malt. I bet Michael Mann is a prodigious wine drinker – probably white wine too.

    Have spent a part of the last few days listening to some of the conference videos – all youse guys are fantastic, and I bet most of you prefer donuts and beer over wine. Very very well done!

  43. Bah … I do live in one of those countries where cork is produced and that study is simply … lying. What happened is that there was a nasty fungal infection attacking a lot of Quercus Suber in Portugal and Spain in the last decade and because the cork is removed from the trees in a 9 years cycle, there is still a lot of inferior quality cork being used for bottling wine now. Now there were some … spirited ;) attempts to link that fungal infection to CAGW, but with very little behind …

    Oh, and BTW, for those that read the article, notice how the investigators found a link to UV exposure ( pretty normal , since Quercus Suber likes dry subtropical climates ) and that somehow was linked to CAGW? A couple of decades ago they would blame it on the Ozone hole, and TBH it would make a little more sense ….

  44. You can generally tell when a rabidly dictatorially and power grasping movement or organisation or a cult has reached it’s use by date when it is no longer regarded and commented on with a discomfort or a disgust or an anger or even a revealing of a deep seated fear of the movement when commenters start to use sarcasm, irony and open contempt when commenting on the movement / cults latest offerings.
    We are seeing this large shift in attitudes right here and now in the comments above and in many recent past posts and comments on WUWT

    We are seeing a similar trend right across the full spectrum of the skeptic and some luke warmer climate blogs in the shift in attitudes from a concern about the increasing power and influence of the climate catastrophe cult to a confidence that the worst that the man made climate catastrophe cult can do to our society and peoples is now past and the cult is in a long terminal decline towards a well deserved oblivion.
    I see the ever increasing sarcasm and the ever deeper irony and contemptuousness of the comments above for the output of claimed, so called climate related research and look at all those other similar in trend comments and blog posts on other skeptic and luke warmer sites plus the very well deserved opprobrium that is being heaped by all sides in the climate debacle on an increasing cascade of what can only be described as climate catastrophe science reports and papers.

    It seems blatantly obvious when one looks at the avalanche of publicly funded, deeply flawed, often opinion only, unsubstantiated, unvalidated and data-less reports and papers that are passed off as some form of climate science then it becomes apparent that nearly all of those papers are seemingly written by a whole generation of either grossly dishonest or deeply deluded and / or intellectually challenged climate catastrophe carpet bagging cultist researchers.

    It is through this deliberate and gross corruption of what science is truly meant to represent that climate catastrophe science and it’s adherents are finally getting their self created and malodorous reputations which they themselves have created through their own arrogance and stupidity and their total lack of any demonstrable scientific, intellectual, ethical and moral rigor and honesty.

    With sincerest apologies to Winston Churchill;

    This is not the end.
    It is perhaps, the end of the beginning.
    And it is perhaps the beginning of the end.

  45. Cork, screw top, plastic plug… put one of each bottle in a paper bag, go find a nice bench down by the bus station, start drinking, and by the time you’re halfway through the experiment, it’ll all taste the same. Ask any knowledgeable wino ;o)

  46. I drink a fair bit of red and would take a screw-capped bottle over one with a cork any time. Previous posters have noted issues with the corks, I’ve had far too many bottled of wine that are “corked” and wasted to ever be enamoured of the horrible things. Save the cork for fishing rod handles (I note its comeback- my latest two rods both have cork) and for nice cork tiles.

  47. “george e. smith says: July 16, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Well cork is also a highly preferred material to make the handles of fishing rods, specially good fly rods. No substitute even comes close.

    But these days, all you can buy to make rods, is crap; full of large voids, and easily broken.

    The properties that make cork ideal for wine stoppers, also makes the best fly rod handles. Can’t buy fly rod corks (rings) anywhere near as good as the average wine bottle cork.

    But fly rods don’t amount to a hill of beans, compared to wine corks.”

    Aye! The high quality cork rings disappeared during the late seventies last century and by the mid eighties what used to be A and B grade cork was getting labeled as AAA and AA cork costing over a dollar per ring. (half inch thick rings, 12 – 18 inch handles).

    Back then we were told that changes in how cork was harvested coupled with the loss of experienced cork harvesters made for the difference in cork quality (shorter times between harvest, quota pressured less careful harvesters).

    Yes, wine corks are a significant portion of the cork harvest; one mustn’t forget cork is also a terrific insulator. If one wants a quiet room, cork goes into the ceiling walls and floors. Cork as a floor underlayment makes a flooring quiet and comfortable to walk or stand on.

    Add to that others uses of cork for displays, planters, bird perches, terrarium crawlways… And the ever present cork board for posting notices and similar. (should I mention that luthiers use cork for their instrument jigs providing cushioning and ‘grab’?)

    Nice to see you’re a rod builder (and fisherperson) George.

  48. If like me you pop a bottle of wine and only drink a glass, I highly recommend the device/cork that sucks the air out of the bottle. It is a vacuum pump with a synthetic rubber cork. I’ve gone a couple weeks before reopening the bottle with almost no degradation of the wine. Reusing screw tops, corks, and synthetic corks leave oxygen in the bottle which degrades the wine. The device has saved me from drinking a lot of bad wine or throwing it away – which happened a lot prior to using this device. Therefore as long as the wine remains properly sealed prior to use, I don’t care what kind of cork it is, although I agree with the one commenter that cork bits in the wine are really annoying. I like a good red wine, but the go-to is Scotch.

  49. Portugal, where most corks come from, are not making enough money to sustain the cork industry. The cork oak is also the home of the European Lynx, an endangered species, and survival of the oak forests vital for this animal.
    The answer is to buy wine only with a cork stopper.

  50. Unlike most of the commenters here I’m a credentialed wine expert. I finished fifth in the California Wine Tasting Championships about twenty years ago.

    The best way to package wine is clearly in a box. The wine stays fresh indefinitely. Back when I was a sucker for wine gizmos. I had this thing that refilled the space above the half empty wine bottle with nitrogen. The idea was that oxygen would oxidize the wine. That empty space is always present in any hard container like a bottle but a box has a sterile plastic liner which contracts as the wine is remove.

    I have outgrown wine gizmos. I now spend my spare cash on coffee gizmos.

    I have Safeway deliver a 5 liter box of Almaden cabernet or chardonnay every month or so. I keep it on a shelf in my refrigerator. Almaden is an excellent mid-quality vin ordinaire. That means it is vastly better than anything you are likely to get in Europe unless you are buying a bottle made for the export market.

    The joys of boxed wine would be clear to all if the wineries would only package their best wines in boxes. My favorite Chardonnay is probably Rombauer’s. It’s about $30 a bottle these days and it sells out quickly. Given the economies of scale and the lower expenses of materials, a five liter box of Rombauer Chardonnay could probably turn a profit at only a hundred dollars a bottle. Me want.

    But because of codger superstitions the really good wines are only sold with corks. OTOH here in the Bay Area we are close enough that some entrepreneur will likely run a pipeline from Napa and we will have wine on tap in all our houses. No corks, no bottles, no boxes,

    [Thank you! .mod]

  51. When I was dealing with the wine industry back in the 80s they were concerned with the availability and quality of cork – that’s why the stelvin cap closure was developed. Except for sparkling and high-end wines, Australasia pretty much uses the stelvin on every other bottle.
    The 100-year availability sounds like not much cork is required and hyperbole to promote more use of cork, or yet one more reason to trot out the “climate-change” scenario

  52. george e. smith says:
    July 16, 2014 at 1:29 pm
    Well cork is also a highly preferred material to make the handles of fishing rods, specially good fly rods. No substitute even comes close.

    But these days, all you can buy to make rods, is crap; full of large voids, and easily broken.

    Absolutely agree George, I still have my dad’s split-cane fly rod which still has a beautiful handle (although I don’t use it too much these days). The newer ones aren’t a patch on it, foam is great for my sea rods but you’re right, for fly rods it’s cork first and substitutes a distant second.

  53. As a wine bibber, but not a conoiser, I prefer screw tops because I don’t have to find the cork screw and #$%& around with the cork and strain little pieces of cork out of the wine before I drink it. All I have to do with a screw top bottle is twist and then bottoms up.

    Cheers.

  54. It’s worse than we thought.
    97% of scientists prefer their wine with a cork and the lowly deniers prefer it with a screw cap for quality and accessibility reasons.

    The fact is, there are far more chances of the cork making the wine go off. It’s a throw back into the dark ages. There’s no shortage of cork. Also known as the fire oak. Whole woods of the stuff grow barely used in Southern Spain. Every so often they will peel some off to rot the next batch of posh wine while the ordinary public buy the stuff in cardboard boxes like we buy sterilised milk..

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