Vent your spleen: synthetic corks!

“Give me screwcaps or give me corks!” Patrick Henry presciently wrote in 1775. Er, maybe that was Jancis Robinson who wrote something like that in 2006.

But you get the idea. That middle ground between true cork and screwcap is occupied by the synthetic cork. On the plus side, there’s no TCA taint, which can arise with natural cork. But on the minus side, the little rubber bullets can be hard to get off the corkscrew (particularly the solid ones), nearly impossible to shove back in the bottle, not biodegradable, and until someone makes a wall of synthetic corks, they haven’t had much appeal being reused functionally or artistically.

What say you?

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25 Responses to “Vent your spleen: synthetic corks!”

  1. On the Spleen-o-meter, these impenetrable, butt-ugly plastic “corks” are possibly the only thing worse than faux wax capsules. Except, of course, wine shipments packed in Styro “popcorn.” Yeowch!

  2. Give me a screwcap any day….

  3. I don’t like them much, but I also seem to be seeing fewer of them. Don’t know if they’re actually falling out of favor or if it’s just that the wines I drink usually don’t have them. In George Taber’s “To Cork or Not to Cork,” it seemed that synthetics were prone to impart their own form of wine taint while also losing the aesthetics of a regular cork. In other words, the worst of both sides in the cork/screwtop debate. So maybe (I hope) their use is in decline. Anyone have stats on that?

  4. I’m reminded of the tofu hot dog. If you have determined that the original is unacceptable, it seems silly to create a fake to use in it’s place.
    If cork is deemed to be a flawed closure then move to something better.
    The only reason to use synthetics are related to notions of preserving what is considered traditional from a wine marketing perspective. That’s a shallow and insufficient reason.

  5. I agree screwcap or real cork. I like my screwcaps on the non-aging type of wines and cork for the more “aging wine” [that is if people even age them hah]

  6. I don’t like the synthetic corks or screwtops. I much prefer a real cork. Maybe I am an old fuddy duddy but there is something pleasing about opening a bottle that has a real cork.

  7. A few convenient facts–

    –As natural cork producers clean up their acts, their product is regaining its place for many wineries. Several Aussie producers, the first to go to screwcaps, are returning to cork for wines that age.

    –Screwcaps have their own shortcomings such as their tendency to encourage fixed sulfur in the wine. I expect screwcap manufacturers are working on ways to fix this problem. The concern is that screwcaps are actually too good at sealing the bottles and do not let the bottling sulfur breath off.

    –The solid plastic corks never fully seal the bottle and any wine closed with one of them will die an early death. Not a problem for wines that no one will age. Big problem for wines that can go in the cellar. Ever try a Cigare Volant at five years old sealed with one of those plugs? Dead and deadly.

    –The extruded plastic plugs do produce their own version of taint–albeit of a very different kind. Several tasters on our panels can pick out wines that have aged on those plugs–time and alcohol seem to make the taint more evident. But, because it is a kind of bake shop, sweet (plastic?) kind of addition, it actually gets hidden in some aromatic whites.

    –A major maker of natural corks told me privately that his firm is looking at the possibility of getting into the screwcap field because he believes it is here to stay. On the other hand, he thinks (hopes?) that plastic as a closure of choice will disappear.

    –The tofu analogy above is misleading in that the problem is not the shape of the cork but the fact that a percentage of natural corks were destroying the very wine they were supposed to protect. A better version of that shape is only a better protector of wine. It is not the shape that is the issue but the protection of the wine.

    –The Diam cork, made up of ground up bits that are sterilized and then glued back together, has been gaining ground in some circles. We have not found TCA in any of them in our tastings, but they occasionally have broken in the middle, and we have come across the occasional bottle that had a “glue-like” character. Unlike our long experience with extruded plastics corks, in which we are convinced of the problem, we have not had enough samples to draw any conclusions. Also, we do not yet have any evidence of the long-range efficacy of Diam corks.

    –Ever experience cork taint in a bottle of good bubbly? Well, yes, but at far lower levels than with natural corks–especially at the rates of a few years back. That is because the stoppers for bubbly are not punched corks but agglomerations with two sterlized disks of natural cork at the business end of the cork. It is easier for the natural cork industry to clean up the disks than to clean up a two inch or longer natural punched cork.

    –This controversy is not behind us, but the attention paid to cork taint and to the plusses and minuses of the alternatives, as well as the continuing development of alternatives to natural cork are making closures better and better–and for that we can all be thankful.

  8. @Paul – Funny!

    @Gretchen – yes

    @Cathy – yes, some numbers would be interesting.

    @Charlie, thanks for that lengthy contribution!

  9. Hate synthetic corks for all the reasons enumerated in your post and not least of all for their tendency to be neon green, orange, pink…

  10. I love screwcaps, but I’ll even go so far as to say that I’d prefer a Tetra Pak box over a synthetic cork.

    Leftover natural corks have all sorts of uses: they make attractive trivets and other kitchen decorations, and can be composted if you wish to do that. Heck, a Champagne cork makes a great bobber for fishing because the shape means the line won’t slip off the cork.

  11. A lot of our customers ask us which is better, and as is evidenced here, in the end its purely a matter of personal preference. While screw caps definitely have their advantages, there is much sentiment in using a traditional cork. Some would even say that using anything other than a traditional cork – is blasphemy.

    I like screw caps personally – they let you at your wine faster!

  12. I prefer the real cork, as many of you due, but enjoy screwcaps for many light whites that would not be saved for any length of time. It allows you to easily take it to a picnic or outdoor concert without having to worry about a corkscrew and potential security issues (a DC phenomenon) at some outdoor events.

  13. Real cork for me all the way, though I will agree with dctravel that for light, early consumption whites screwcaps are fine.

    Drank a Berger Gruner Veltliner last night bottled under crown cap (like a glass beer bottle) only and found this closure to be great for this wine. But for anything expected to last more than one year in my cellar I want a real cork, and call me picky but I want it to be high quality and TCA free.

  14. Actually, I enjoy pulling the synthetic corks off of my corkscrew.

    It improves my forearm strength and will one day make me look like Popeye!

  15. Popeye? Dream on. Sorry, Joe. And pulling plastic corks could, at best, make you a one-armed Popeye.

  16. Maybe I’m naieve, but I have never had a problem with synthetic corks. And in my limited experience, most feel rubbery rather than plastic. Am I missing something?

  17. What wine do you prefer to pair with your spinach, Joe?

  18. Thanks, Charlie, for the informative post.

    I just came back from an annual tour of some northern Michigan wineries and noticed that some are making a point of differentiating to tasting room customers why some bottles have screwcaps and some corks: “drink me now” wines versus some that would benefit from a little bottle age. This makes more sense to me than an “always cork” or “always screwcap” argument.

  19. Charlie, I’ve got only one thing to say to you.

    I’ve had all I can standz, and I can’t satndz no more!!!

  20. I’ve never known an artificial cork to come apart and deposit tiny annoying fragments into my wine. I’m all for it.

  21. Just another sad example of the rot setting in – whatever happened to linen napkins, English speaking waiters and china teacups at polo?

  22. Last year I went to an tasting last year with a group of other winemakers featuring Rieslings between 7 – 20 years in age.

    The semi-dry Riesling flight was absolutely beautiful, with the exception of 2 wines which had chemical / harsh flavors.

    When we unveiled the wines, we found that both of these wines had been sealed with a synthetic closure. These wines were from the same producer, who had chosen to use the synthetic closure for 2 vintages, and subsequently switched back to cork. This producer had also submitted wines with natural cork from other vintages which showed beautifully.

    All of this said, I realize that those who use synthetic corks probably don’t intend for the wines to be laid down for a considerable period of aging.

  23. I’m always so sad when I pull off the foil on a bottle I’ve never tried, and there’s a plastic bullet staring back at me…betrayal…

  24. The question here is an ecological one. Cork is a renewable resource – it is taken off the trees that regrow it. These trees – cork oaks – are the backbone of an entire ecosystem in Spain and Portugal. If people stop using cork, there will be no incentive to protect the forests against being bulldozed for roads and condos. And the oak forests are a very precious wildlife area.


    Tolerate the very slight chance of having a corked wine (and though we drink a lot of wine, I have never had a “corked” wine bought in the last ten years) and maintain the Iberian Peninsula’s natural beauty

    John Humphreys
    PS – and I love the sound too!

  25. I’m not here to save Spain and Portugal from an eco/economical crisis. I’m here to get drunk on wine! Lol! When Dom Perignon stumbled upon a process for making sparkling wine, I bet he was shunned by wine snobbery, too. Times change. I’ve never had a poorly tasting wine from an integra cork…, but imagine my Sunday lunch when the shops have closed and I pop that cork from my bottle and sit down to a James Bond repeat on a snowy day and YUK, corked! Not happy!


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