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, TheWineman.com