Natural vs. Synthetic Corks

When you think of breaking out a bottle of wine, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Many think of the traditional cork ‘pop’ as a signal of a freshly cracked bottle of wine. But would your wine be just as enjoyable without this symbolic introduction? Today, synthetic wine corks are becoming a popular option over the traditional form of natural corks. There is a great debate over the pros and cons of synthetic and natural corks. For the home wine maker, this can be an important decision. While the home wine making process develops integral flavor profiles, bottling and aging are also primary considerations for developing and maintaining flavor. Before pulling out the wine making kits, read five things you need to know when deciding between a synthetic or natural cork for your homemade wine.

1. Cork Taint. Cork taint occurs in natural corks due to a chemical compound called trichloroanisole (TCA). Cork taint can be very disappointing, as it can spoil wine that has been aging for years. Cork taint occurs in approximately 3-15 percent of all bottled wine.

2. Sealing. One of the primary concerns with bottled wine is consistency in keeping the cork snug. Glass bottles naturally expand and contract based on temperature and environment, and natural corks will expand and contract along with the bottle. Synthetic corks don’t offer this benefit, and can easily become too loose, letting in too much air, or too tight, rendering bottles unable to be opened.

3. Air. While corks need to remain snug, a little bit of natural oxygen is necessary for the wine to age properly. Oxygen allows the natural chemical reactions in wine to occur, producing the aging flavors that are developed over time. Synthetic corks prevent oxygen from reaching the wine, meaning synthetically corked wine technically doesn’t experience the aging process. However, the benefit of synthetic corks is that it does prevent wine from over-oxidation, another primary concern during the aging process.

4. Environmentally friendly bottling.  Natural cork is derived from the bark of cork trees, which is actually a very environmentally friendly process. The bark is a renewable resource that grows back over time. Cork bark is striped every ten years, and each individual tree can produce bark for up to 200 years. Cork trees also provide lots of environmental benefits, such as trapping harmful carbon dioxide and lessening pollution.

5. Cost. The cost of synthetic corks is substantially lower, one of the reasons that many commercial bottles are now adopting this trend. Today, approximately 9% of all bottles of commercially packed wine use a synthetic cork, and these numbers continue to quickly rise.

As you may see, there are pros and cons for using each type of cork. There are many debates over which cork type is best suited for a specific wine type, and as we divulge here, it is hard to come to a conclusive answer. Being aware of the pros and cons will allow you to make an informative decision on how you want to approach your next bottling process. Making careful choices, from the type of wine making equipment used to the appropriate type of cork, will allow you to successfully create the wine of your dreams.