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Published on July 5, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour

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Put a lid on it

Natural or synthetic? Vincent Zeller poses the ‘closure’ question

Log on to any internet debate on whether wine is better with a natural, cork, a synthetic one or a screw top and you’ll get swamped by sites with vested interests in either, plus a load of “laying down” jargon.

Let’s be honest, very few of us buy wine to age in a cellar. Wines are bought to be consumed either that day, for the coming weekend, or if you have masses of self-will, next month’s party. So, does it really matter what the “closure” is and how it operates?

Restaurateurs love it when there’s a sound of popping cork at a table as it has an immediate, positive effect one other diners. Natural cork is ecologically sound and comes from from renewable sources, notably trees in Portugal. But they can dry out, they can crumble and sometimes they are the devil’s work to pull out. Natural cork can also taint wine – where we get the term “corked”.

As for synthetic “corks”, they are usually produced from moulded or extruded plastic with the advantage that they are much cheaper than most natural corks. And if you thought a “proper” cork is difficult to extract, some plastic ones defy muscle power – and just try and get one the back in the bottle neck. To me they cheapen the experience of the liquid that you’re about to enjoy and it seems bonkers to create synthetic copies of a natural product even with all its inconveniences.

Screwcaps provide the perfect seal, but many people find them aesthetically a turn-off, although attitudes are changing as screwcapped bottles become more widely used. European wine producers seem slower to embrace the screwcap than their New World counterparts – almost all Australian wines are screwed down – and indeed a cork closure is still mandatory in certain Italian wines.

(We’ll not go into the degree-level subject of “oxygen ingress” here, it’s far too complex for a £7.99 investment.)

It’s argued that red wines destined for long ageing may require a greater degree of interaction with oxygen than is currently permitted by a screwcap, although further research is required – plus not many of us can wait 20 years to get our pop, swoosh, glug kick.


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Alastair Gilmour



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