Organic Cork Versus Synthetic Cork

Like many others, I celebrated Valentine's Day at a favorite and most-romantic restaurant. After deciding on a bottle of wine, my date and I engaged in conversation and eye flirting while glancing over the menu. The sommelier brought our bottle and we eagerly awaited the first taste as he sunk the corkscrew. With our eyes on the sommelier we heard the familiar "pop" and he handed us the cork to save from our special evening. But did we really want to save this (gasp!) synthetic cork that was yellow with bright orange flames? How un-romantic! How un-TreeHugger! But before we toss that ugly cork in the garbage, let's take a closer look Organic cork has been used to seal wine bottles since the 17th century when champagne maker Dom Pérignon realized its potential. It has proven itself for hundreds of years and many wine drinkers love the elegance and tradition of it. But with the 17 billion bottles of wine that are now produced each year, it's becoming harder and harder for the cork trees to keep up and about 9 percent of bottles are now sealed with synthetics.

Traditional cork, carved from the bark of a type of oak tree found mostly in Portugal and the Mediterranean, have about 150 years of life in them but can only be harvested every 9 — 12 years. Although this renewable resource has been used for so many years, there's a huge debate going on in the wine industry today and the little villain that's causing it is called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole). TCA is a fungus-produced compound that grows in cork fiber and causes "cork taint." Wine producers argue over the number, but somewhere between one and 12 percent of all wine bottles sealed with organic cork are found to be tainted. Think of the frustration after ordering that expensive Bordeux!

Supreme Corq is the world's largest producer of synthetic corks and sells to over 1,000 wineries and distillers located in North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Synthetics can be used as a branding tool and more than a dozen colors and designs are available. Top-quality wineries that produce short-duration wines are the biggest users of these corks and wine connoisseurs admit that they work well on wines consumed by most U.S. consumers. The allure of synthetic corks (unlike the now becoming popular metal screw top) is that they are similar to the standard cork: they fit the same bottles and can be removed the same way. However, make sure you have a wine stopper on hand because once removed a synthetic expands and it's nearly impossible to get it back in the bottle.

Natural corks have proven themselves over the years but it's the cultural resonance that extends even to the novice drinkers. This is something that the traditional cork industry has capitalized on and has taken huge strides to fight back. U.S. cork importers have created a rigorous testing system to weed out tainted cork while the Portuguese cork industry has launched an extensive $8 million campaign to commend the natural cork.
Nevertheless, many wine makers agree that it seems that the wine drinkers are the ones that hold the most value in the decision. Why wouldn't wine makers want every bottle to be perfect?

As a consumer, it is a tough decision. Traditional and romantic or synthetic and fresh? Traditional cork can be thrown in your compost pile and we love that. However, if you decide to go with the synthetic to save some of that cork-tainted wine, we ask that you recycle that orange-flamed cork before tossing it in the garbage. Yes, I said recycle. Who knew? After all, there aren't any arrows on them. And if synthetic corks are becoming that popular, why not set up a recycling program for them? Something to think about for the synthetic cork industry. [by Kara DiCamillo]
Sources: Supreme Corq, MSNBC,