The Great Wine Cork Debate!
Natural corks vs synthetic corks:
Which one wins?
For some wine enthusiasts, the type of wine cork used can make or break one's appreciation for the wine. The differences between natural and
synthetic corks can fuel a heated debate to last all night long...
Certainly there are advantages and disadvantages for both - like most things in life!
But boiled down, there are only two advantages of synthetic wine corks:
- Synthetic corks DO effectively prevent the most annoying 'cork taint'
that contaminates anywhere between 3 and 15 percent of aged bottles.
Cork taint occurs when TCA (trichloroanisole), a chemical compound that
occurs in some natural corks, transforms aged wine into a
disappointing, pungent, rancid wine . And since wines worth aging are
also more expensive wines, it's clear that cork taint is a nuisance in
the wine world that we all wish could be waved 'POOF GONE' by some magic wand...
- The second advantage of synthetic wine corks is simply economics: they're cheaper.
Which might mean greater profits for the wine stopper industry (which
really pushes use of synthetic corks) and to a lesser extent better
profits for the wine maker, it's not such an advantage for the wine
ESPECIALLY when considering all these disadvantages of synthetic wine corks that you could chew on:
- Synthetic corks don’t expand/contract within the bottle.
Did you know that wine bottles - like most all types of glass - expand
and contract with even slight temperature fluctuations? Why does this
matter? Because unlike inert synthetic corks, natural cork expands and
contracts alongside its bottle, maintaining an ideal and consistent
tight seal between cork and bottle. And in wine-aging, consistency is
- A woobly/loose synthetic cork lets oxygen seep into the wine
- exposing the wine to potential oxidation, which can essentially turn a
wine into a vinegear. (And leaving you with an equally undrinkable wine
to a corked wine affected by cork taint!)
- Synthetic corks can be difficult to remove, which is often a problem with synthetic corks after around 18 months in the bottle. You gotta wrestle that thing out!
- Synthetic corks can't allow small amounts of oxygen that help age bottled wine.
Okay, so above I said a disadvantage of synthetic corks is possible
exposure to oxygen. Now I'm saying a disadvantage is the wine NOT
getting exposure to oxygen. What gives?? Well, it's all in the AMOUNT of oxygen we're talking about.
If the cork is too loose, the wine is over-exposed, causing that
dreaded oxidation. Yet without tiny seeps of oxygen, (which happens with
natural corks, and does not happen with tight synthetic corks) most of
the natural chemical reactions that occur during bottle aging simply
cannot take place. Oxygen gets kicked out of the 'party' and without
oxygen..there IS no party! Those delicious, mysterious 'aging flavors'?
Impossible! As Stephanie Warren of Wine Vintage most aptly states: "In short, a synthetic-corked bottle doesn’t really
“age”–it’s just taking up space in the cellar."
people can ping-pong this issue all night long...but for me, what's the
fun of uncorking a piece of plastic from a wine bottle? None at all.
Melina (that's me) is the creator & catalyst behind this website, and answers wine questions through research, ongoing conversation with Sergio, and personal experience living and working at Hopewell Valley Vineyards.
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