Wine lovers are known for strong opinions about their favorite beverage. The merits of grape varieties, wine regions, vintages and wine making methods are all hotly debated, often over glasses of wine.
One subject that’s sure to spark conversation among oenophiles is the use of plastic corks versus the traditional natural cork. We’re not going to try to change anyone’s mind here today, but here is our assessment of the pros and cons.
The Pros Of Synthetic Corks
While there are still a lot of wine lovers (and wine makers) who consider a plastic closure to be the hallmark of an inferior wine, they’re being used by a growing number of wineries and increasingly for more expensive bottles. And there are plenty of good reasons behind that trend.
Somewhere between one and ten percent of bottles sealed with a natural cork end up being spoiled due to cork taint, which is caused by a fungus that occurs in cork. Since plastic isn’t a hospitable environment for the cork taint fungus, wine corked with plastic doesn’t suffer from this malady.
There is also the fact that plastic corks are perfectly standardized and thus can be relied on for a consistently secure seal. Natural cork can vary slightly in size from one cork to the next due to the nature of the material, and thus a consistent seal is not guaranteed.
The other problem that rarely afflicts a plastic cork is splitting upon opening. How many times have you been frustrated by a natural cork that disintegrates when you’re trying to uncork a bottle, and then you’re stuck with bits of cork floating in your wine glass? That’s typically not an issue with plastic corks.
Finally, plastic corks are generally cheaper than natural corks. So if you’re making wine at home on a budget, plastic is one way to economize.
The Arguments For Natural Corks
Cork has been used for centuries to seal wine bottles, and despite the rapid adoption of plastic corks in the wine industry today most people still associate natural corks with high quality wine.
First, there’s the aesthetic appeal. Traditionalists argue that plastic corks just don’t feel quite right. And it’s difficult to counter that point of view.
Some people also argue that plastic corks can be too difficult to remove, especially after an extended time in the cellar.
Another advantage, albeit with exceptions, is that natural corks can allow small amounts of air into the bottle, which aids in the aging process. Natural cork purists argue that wine in bottles corked with plastic does not actually age at all since no oxygen whatsoever is allowed to react with the wine. Of course, the exception to this advantage occurs when bottles are not properly corked or the cork is not the correct size for the bottle, which can result in wine turning into vinegar.
Ultimately, You Decide
As a home vintner, you have to make the choice between natural and plastic corks depending on your tolerance for risk, your plans for how long you want to age your wine, and your aesthetics. For many that’s a simple choice, but even for some experienced home wine makers it’s a matter of constant debate. Check out our Corks and Closures page using the navigation above to see our wide selection.