The Cork Quandary

It has been going on for quite some time: the battle between those enthusiasts for corks, and those who prefer other options, such as synthetic closures and screwcaps.

Of course, corks have only been around for the last 3% of wine’s history, so it’s not like they are part of a long tradition. But the 4000 BCE wine pots we saw in China just had bronze covers, and we will certainly not go back to those!

So what are the issues on each side of the cork controversy? 

Pros:

  •  Part of the ceremony of wine
  • Allow a bit of air inside, so wine gently ages
  • A good sniff of the cork tells us a bit about the condition of the wine

Cons:

  • They are a cause of cork taint; as many as 10% of red wines suffer from it.
  • They dry out easily; even with the bottles on their sides in the cellar.
  • They break off or crumble too easily, leaving cork bits in the wine.
  • They appear to be of lower quality than they were 20 years ago.
  • They may be a renewable resource, but Cork Oaks are more scarce.
  • And now with airline restrictions, who has a corkscrew to open a bottle?

Then, what are the alternatives?
The variety of synthetic corks, from rubber to plastic to cork composites appear to resolve many of the “con” arguments listed above–but not all of them. Screw caps, long the domain of cheap wines, are a great option–IF they don’t add a metallic taste to the wine. Some of the boxed wines are great; one we tried from Black Box lasted 2 weeks with little aging. And most of them have just a plastic valve.

Yes, but how will the alternatives age? It’s hard to know, but we are seeing many wineries experimenting with them, so the word will be out in 20 years.

Personally, my experience with the screwcaps (recently, not in the 60’s) has been all positive. Perhaps they will even slow down the aging, so my Aussie Shiraz’s last twice as long before they fade!

What I’m doing in the meantime is this: Saving corks (all types) to lay down on the floor in our wine cellar. So far we have about 6000, and figure we need 9-10K. What better way to celebrate the demise of the cork!