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Q: Are Plastic Corks for Cheap Wine?

by David on April 23, 2007

Question from Andrew: Hi! I bought a $30.00 bottle of wine and it had a plastic cork. I’ve always thought that using anything other than a real cork is a sign of poor quality. What’s going on? What do you use and why?

Answer: Hi, Andrew! Thanks for writing! As you’ve noticed, the world of wine closures is changing very quickly. It’s hard to keep up!

It all started in the last decade or so and was driven mainly by problems with “cork taint,” which refers to a sound wine being ruined by a bad cork. The cork could fail to perform, for instance it could leak and lead to oxidation, but cork taint usually refers to a cork that has made the wine smell musty and moldy. I’d like to tell you that it doesn’t happen very often, and the statistics are inexact and hotly debated, but let’s just say that it’s been often enough to become an issue.

So, we started looking at alternatives. Plastic corks started to come on the scene about 8 or 9 years ago, according to our cork broker. They reduce the potential for cork taint to zero but have problems of their own. For one thing, they can be hard to get out of the bottle and for another they can’t be trusted to protect the wine beyond about 3 years. However, they’ve been embraced by the industry because they’re very inexpensive and most people drink their wine within a few weeks of the purchase anyway. As long as you’re not aging your wine long term they’re fine, if you can live with the environmental downside.

And then screw caps migrated from “jug wine” to fine wine. In the southern hemisphere, people love them. In Europe and the U.S. we’re a little less enthusiastic, but you can no longer assume that a screw cap means it’s a lesser wine. There’s no risk of cork taint and statistically, the screw cap is superior to cork when it comes to protecting the wine from air. It may be the closure of the future, believe it or not. There are those with some reservations for technical reasons. We think it’s best to allow more data to be accumulated.

There are other new closures out there too. As I said, it’s hard to keep current.

It’s ironic that these new alternatives have become so well accepted just in time for most of the cork-taint problems to be solved. Cork quality control has improved by quantum leaps and the industry has developed ways to purge the substance that makes the wine smell musty. It’s my sincere hope that cork taint is one the run.

We use natural cork here at Goosecross because we believe it’s the best closure for the long haul and it is bio-degradable. Our supplier has an excellent track record regarding the cork-taint issue so we’re able to bottle the wine and be confident that it will be well protected.

I hope that answers your questions. We have more detailed information on our website and there’s a 4-part interview that provides some great information from our cork supplier right here in Napa Valley Wine Radio podcast episodes 18 through 21.

Cheers! Nancy

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