Debate: Natural or Plastic Corks?

By now, you’ve seen the plastic or synthetic corks used on some wines instead of the natural cork from cork trees. They’re seeing an explosion of use in affordable imports from new wine regions (Spain, New Zealand), not to mention for domestic (e.g. US) white wines. What is their purpose? What are the tradeoffs?

Synthetic Corks
* Pros: No possibility of cork taint, which can ruin a bottle of wine. Holds it’s shape over time and won’t disintegrate if removed improperly. No environmental impact on finite population of cork trees.
* Cons: Wine is all about tradition. Plastic corks don’t absorb scent like a natural cork nor age uniquely. Simply, they look cheap. And to many consumers, they will perceive wine as cheap if it has a synthetic cork.

Natural Corks
* Pros: Hard to quantify the significance of history and tradition but both play important factors. As reports from the WWF and others suggest, the oak cork tree population has been closely regulated and protected due to their use in wine corks. A transition off of natural corks might bring these populations future into question.
* Cons: Cork taint can randomly ruin wine. The argument of protecting cork trees in their current state could be questioned due to the increased demand of wine corks in future years that could put excess demand on the tree population.

So, with all that, I’m not sure exactly where to sit. What do you think? Which do you prefer?

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2 responses to “Debate: Natural or Plastic Corks?

  1. Third alternative popping it’s sneaky head into the game is the screw cap. I had a bottle of Layer Cake from Napa Valley, and after scoffing at the screw cap, truly enjoyed the entire bottle. I believe Penfolds is trying the screw cap as well. And from what I understand, it holds the best seal and solves the oxidation problem associated with a ‘corked’ wine.

  2. For me it has to be a traditional cork, even if the wine is shamefully cheap…

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