Synthetic Or Natural Wine Bottle Corks: A Corker’s Conundrum

There’s a lot of debate regarding what type of closure you should be using to bottle your homemade wine.  Understanding the qualities of each type of closure and how they fit in with the style of wine you intend to create will allow you to make an informed decision and give you confidence that you are selecting the perfect wine bottle closure for your homemade wine.

Two of the most common types of wine bottle closures are natural cork and synthetic cork.

Natural wine bottle cork comes from the bark of the cork tree, which is indigenous to Spain and Portugal.  They do not kill the tree in order to harvest the cork, but instead they simply strip the bark off the tree, which subsequently regenerates new bark.  In this way, the method can be considered renewable and environmentally friendly.  Natural cork is also the oldest method of bottle closure, and has been widely used and accepted for hundreds of years.

Natural cork allows small amounts of oxygen into the wine, which is beneficial during the aging process.  One problem with this is that the amount of oxygen let in is extremely variable from cork to cork, and one can never be sure their wine is being exposed to too much air.  You always run the risk of having a “corked” bottle of wine, caused by TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), which is produced by fungus living in the natural cork.  Finally, natural cork can sometimes crumble when trying to remove it, which leaves undesirable chunks of cork floating around in your glass of wine.

Synthetic corks are alternatives to natural cork that have been picking up a lot of steam in recent years.  One concern about synthetic corks is that not enough oxygen is allowed through the cork and into the wine; however, there is currently ongoing research that is making progress in alleviating this issue.

One benefit of synthetic cork is that you’ll never have a wine that is suffering from cork taint.  Also, synthetic cork can be very easy to remove from the bottle, and you never have to worry about crumbling or breaking.  Finally, synthetic corks are recyclable, so you don’t have to worry about being unfriendly to the environment when you use this alternative wine bottle cork.

Since over 90% of wines are designed to be consumed in their youth, the issue of synthetic cork subpar breathability is no longer an issue.  Oxygen transfer is extremely important in the aging of wines, however, if you are making a wine that’s designed to be consumed immediately, then buying synthetic corks may just be the way to go!
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

12 thoughts on “Synthetic Or Natural Wine Bottle Corks: A Corker’s Conundrum

  1. Thanks for explaining the differences and advantages between natural corks and synthetic corks. I will definitely make a much better decision when buying corks.

  2. I use the Zork. Don’t need a corkscrew and it fits back in the bottle if needed. Easy to install and easy to remove. Cost about $.25 a piece. Never had any problems. Check them out.

  3. I tried both the synthetic and the natural corks and prefer the natural. they work better in the corking machine and never break up on me. I bottle my wine and about 30 days later lay the bottles down on the shelves so that the air will not continue to pass thru the cork. I guess it is just a matter of which one you prefer.

  4. Jack, hard cider is not normally aged that long. It doesn’t need it, so the type of cork is not as important. Even screw-caps will do.

  5. Mike, screw-caps work great for most white wines and fast aging red wines. These are the wines that do not age much and therefor do not need the slow infuse of oxygen that both natural and synthetic corks bring. However, I would stay away from the screw-cap for bigger red wines and maybe Chardonnays. These wines need magic of aging and the cork.

  6. I age the juice, 1 year or 2. Worried about the fungus in naturels?
    Many coffee makers are available now at Goodwill. Cheap too. I use 2 cups sterile H2O but put naturels in container below to catch the steaming hot purifier. This leaves the naturels clean soft easy to cork. Run cleaner thru pot first to eliminate coffee fumes.

  7. Very good information to understand role of corks , i mean and usually use natural cork, notwithstanding that Tca is present , hang on storage conditios, so i thik that natural corks is the best solution for red wines, whereas for synthetic cork , my opinion it.s enough solution for whit wines

  8. in nc we make muscidne wine but i cant get it to taste like the winners
    do. i thanke they use two kinds of grapes i use noble grapes for red wine.
    and there wine is good my wine is ok for home made wine

  9. Jeff, on a federal level you do not need to register to make up to 200 gallons of either wine or beer a year. However, you may want to check with your state and local authorties to see if there are any restrictions for your specific location.

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