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.
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!
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.