Wine Words: Plastic Cork

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Plastic Cork is a synthetic alternative to cork. Natural cork, made from the bark of the cork tree, is the traditional closure of choice for wine, but the high incidence of cork taint in wine has expedited the research and development of alternative wine closures, like plastic.

Plastic cork, as the name suggests, is a molded cork made from a variety of plastic (i.e. oil) compounds. The biggest advantage of plastic cork is the alleviation of cork taint. While this is considered very important, plastic corks also have a number of disadvantages. 

  • Firstly, while plastic corks can be recycled, they are non-biodegradable.
  • Secondly, they are permeable to oxygen. Therefore wines sealed using plastic corks have a shorter shelf life and are really best destined for wines that are going to be consumed within nine to twelve months of being bottled.
  • Thirdly, while still somewhat debatable, there is a risk of flavor scalping – a concern that plastic corks absorb flavors of the wine.
  • Fourthly, as I have experienced many times, plastic corks can be very difficult to remove from a bottle. While they do not disintegrate like some natural corks, they have less ‘give’ than natural or composite corks.

On the advantages side, as well as alleviating cork (TCA) taint, proponents of plastic cork point out that that because they ‘save’ the depletion of cork trees, they are environmentally friendly. They are also cheaper than natural cork. 

Other alternatives to natural cork besides plastic cork include screwcap, glass stopper and agglomerated cork – i.e. cork made from agglomerated cork particles.

(Image: Underlying image by Sadovnikova Olga/Shutterstock)

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Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.

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