Did you know that up until the 17th century, wine stoppers were all made of glass? To keep the wine from oxidizing during these times, winemakers would soak some kind of rag or cloth in oil to create a layer on top of the wine. Natural cork became the norm in the late 1600s and quickly escalated as the more preferably material. Cork stoppers proved easier to remove than glass, and it became evident that wine aged much better when closed with a cork stopper rather than with a glass topper or oil-soaked cloth.
Why do wines have corks?
Nowadays, natural cork is the primary type of wine stopper used. When it comes to 100% naturally produced wine, especially for specific vintages, there is no question about it — natural is the way to go. There are other options available, though less suitable for natural vintage wines, such as plastic corks and grainy (agglomerate) corks. There are also plenty of wines that don’t use cork at all, and instead are closed with a screw cap — but that’s for another day.
Does wine with corks taste better?
There is a reason why natural cork is the most popular and most effective in keeping wine as fresh as possible. Natural cork allows wine to breathe, which in turn ages and matures wine without any issues of oxidation. Natural cork is also the more environmentally friendly choice. Cork is naturally harvested from the bark of oak trees called Querbus suber — but don’t worry, no trees are harmed in the making! Once the tree is fully grown, the bark is stripped from the tree and used to create cork. The bark will regrow, and continue to grow, until another decade has passed and the tree is ready for another harvest. Because of their sustainable nature, natural cork wine stoppers are recyclable and biodegradable.
What does it mean when a wine is corked?
Natural corks do not come without their drawbacks. Although it is absolutely the better choice for naturally produced vintage wines, it is important to look at both sides to fully understand how to protect the integrity of your wine.
We must not overlook the fact that natural cork is indeed porous, which means that there is the chance that the inside of the wine bottle can be exposed to too much air and ruin the tone, texture and taste of the wine. Wine can also become “corked,” which basically means that it has been tainted because the cork became infected with a fungus called TCA. In some cases when a wine is not properly or professionally aged, the wine cork can crumble apart and actually fall into the wine bottle. While this doesn’t necessarily ruin the wine, and it is possible to simply pour it out into a decanter and drink from there, you run the chance of taking in bits and pieces of cork as you drink — and that just is not very pleasant. Cork is also limited in its production since it completely depends upon the lifespan of the oak tree, and the amount of time between harvesting, which is once every nine to twelve years.
Natural Cork vs Plastic Cork
Natural corks’ synthetic counterparts are not actually made with cork at all. Instead, they are made from plastic compounds and designed to mimic the look of real cork. One of the main benefits of using plastic corks is that there is no risk for any kind of contamination and no risk of the cork falling apart. The drawbacks outweigh this one advantage, though. Synthetic, plastic corks may be recyclable, but they are not biodegradable, so their impact on the environment is much worse. Plastic stoppers also tend to look cheap — and we don’t just mean inexpensive. If it is very noticeably plastic, it could make the wine bottle look tacky and lacking in any kind of sophistication or elegance. Synthetic, plastic stoppers have zero effect on oxidation the way that natural cork stoppers do, so a wine might not age as well when closed by a plastic stopper.
In addition to these plastic stoppers as a cheaper alternative to natural cork, there are also grainy corks, sometimes also referred to as agglomerate corks. These corks are basically the result of various granules of recycled cork being molded together to create a new cork. Grainy corks are only used for wine that will be drunk within two years of production. It cannot safely preserve a wine stored for over that amount of time.
SYLTBAR is certified by the Italian Greek Project, which provides a guide for our family-owned-and-operated winery in Friuli, Italy for eco-friendly production and sustainable harvesting. This is why we only use natural cork stoppers for all of our wines, both sparkling and still. Shop 100% naturally produced wines with all natural cork closures online at syltbar.com, or use our locator to find a restaurant or retailer near you that carries our wine.