Thursday Rant–Synthetics

I know that all in all I am a pretty lucky guy: I have a loving wife, two relatively normal, healthy boys, a job (not much more than that, though), and a rather well stocked wine “cellar”.  Therefore I realize that when I rant about something I might come off as a bit of a whiny (on the verge of abnormally) tall white guy that thinks he can get away with the occasional Asian joke because he is married to one.

I get that.

There are a few things that really get me going, however. Tasting Room fees and the obscene mark-ups on wine in restaurants were just the beginning. The other night, after a day of drudgery at work, I was looking forward to opening a bottle of wine for the evening meal. I had purchased the wine a few months earlier and thought it was an incredible steal–the wine should have been at least twice the price (at least that is what the online retailer claimed in the glowing review). I pulled out my second favorite corkscrew (I lost my favorite one about a month ago–let me know if you find it) and quickly decapsulated the bottle. As I was poised to insert the coiled steel of happiness, I was suddenly depressed.

Synthetic cork.Syncorks

Really?

For me, nothing says “cheap bottle of wine” more loudly than the synthetic cork. Even the twist off (Stelvin) closure has more class for me than the synthetic cork since the fake cork means you are trying to 1). be cheap and 2). deceive me.

I get that there are a couple of issues with real corks. First, real corks are expensive–they can cost up to a buck a cork (or more). Second, and much more important, is cork taint. Some estimates are as high as 10% of corks are tainted with TCA (2,4,6 trichloroanisole), but others say that is considerably less than that. TCA makes the wine smell like wet newspapers in your grandmother’s moldy, nasty basement.

I loved my grandmother, but that’s not good.

In my own experience, I would guess that I have had about 3% or less corked wines., so I get it. Corked wines are a bummer, particularly when you have forked out a considerable amount of cash.

Corked wine = Bad

Some claim that to combat tainted cork, synthetic corks were “invented”. The thought? I assume that many out there consider pulling a cork to be a large part of the “experience” of drinking a bottle of wine, so better a fake cork than [gasp] a screw top.

Maybe.

When the “cork” often spins upon extraction and looks like a huge hunk of plastic, well the effect is lost. At least on me. The truth? Synthetics are cheaper than real cork and you have no way of knowing you have been bamboozled until it is too late.

The number of fantastic wines that are adopting the screw top is growing. Off the top of my balding head I can think of three good to great Pinot producers (Argyle, Siduri, and Loring) that put $50-75 wines under the screw. I challenge any of you out there to name one single “quality” wine that has a synthetic cork.

I see synthetic corks a lot like civil unions–they try to do the same thing as a real cork (a marriage), but they are just a cheap imitation, and no one is really happy about them.

Screw caps are the answer.

From Loring Wine Company

From Loring Wine Company

OK, the gay marriage analogy breaks down here (unless you are a pre-pubescent boy), but hopefully you get my point: If you want an inexpensive closure and/or you want to avoid cork taint, just go Full Monty with the screw cap and people will thank you for it (and you won’t lament the fact that you lost your favorite corkscrew).

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Cork, Pinot Noir, Rant, Stelvin Closure, Wine and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Thursday Rant–Synthetics

  1. cyardin says:

    You are 100% right on this one. Synthetic corks are akin to cask wine. What is even worse is when the synthetic cork is sooooo cheap that when you uncork the bottle the bottom “plastic” capping falls off into the wine. What is that? Good rant – though I don’t get the marriage analogy.

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    • Yeah, I thought the gay marriage thing was a bit of a stretch, but it is a hot topic these days and I am shamelessly looking to drive traffic (not really, I was actually a bit tired and on the verge of incoherent).

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  2. Mike says:

    The other issue that you dont mention is that synthetics corks are corkscrew killers. I’ve had several perfectly good ones irreversibly bent due to synthetics. Phuckers.

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  3. I hate trying to get synthetic corks out of bottles – they’re a bloody nightmare! Stuffed in there with force, so they are really difficult to pull out. They also aren’t flexible and so I’ve had many a nice bottle turn out to be oxidized because of these buggers.

    I would never judge a screw-cap wine nowadays… I would only start asking questions if the wine was something that needed to age considerably because there just isn’t enough research into how wines age under screw-cap.

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    • The screw is certainly the way to go. The best part is that they are so easy to store–no need to lay them on their side! I hear you about the aging thing–it worries me a bit as well…..

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      • Some Chateau have been doing tests in Bordeaux, so we’ll just have to wait and see what the results are… I think the lining of the screw-cap is supposed to make a difference too.

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      • Way back when, while I was living in France, I was told that one of the advantages of “real” cork was that it allowed miniscule amounts of oxygen in the bottle over long periods of time, which caused the wine to “age”. Not sure if it is actually true, but it made some sense….

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  4. You crack me up! Not about your rant- I 100% agree with your thought process. I just love the way you present it. You had me smirking during the first paragraph. Keep up the rants! I love them and have totally agreed with each one so far.

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  5. chef mimi says:

    My problem with the few that I’ve come across is that they ruin corkscrews. I never got emotional about them, though. But honestly, I love screw tops. Especially for my every day, sipping wine. They’re just so easy, and you can store them in the fridge sideways without leakage fear!!!

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  6. chrislarkin70 says:

    I hadn’t had any corked wines for ages, then got a couple in the space of a few weeks – one was a barbaresco I was really looking forward to as well. Screw caps definitely the way forward I reckon though -plastic corks are both oxymoronic and pointless!

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  7. I agree with your rant . . . I hate synthetic corks! If you’re going to use a cork to close your wine, use a real one. Or use a screw top . . . I’ve made my peace with screw tops. And Loring is one of my all-time favorite Pinot producers, btw. YUM!! Salud!!

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  8. Agreed, and this is a very hot topic with wine producers, especially when trying to meet the demands of the consumer by offering more “value” driven wines. I’d rather pay the extra dollar for the real thing. Aside from the price, the synthetic cork does not share the same expansion/contraction characteristics as real cork in changing humidity & temperatures. Then again, many wines are more often being produced to “drink now.” It’s a great debate, and I’m glad you stirred the pot. Great article.

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    • Thanks so much for the kind words! I just do not see what a synthetic cork provides that a screw-top doesn’t. To me, synthetic screams “cheap wine” much more loudly and it is certainly not a better closure. It also can’t be less expensive. I just don’t get it….

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  9. I’m no wine snob, more of a gourmand than gourmet, but I’m with you on the fake corks. I’d rather screw off the top than attempt to tug out the faux cork. I’ve almost destroyed several corkscrews (waiters, screw pull, etc) fighting with them. Glad I’m not alone.

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  10. Hate to show my lack of wine knowledge, but what is the difference in being “corked” and being “oxidized”? I love your “Rants,” keep it up!!! 🙂

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    • Sorry! Just saw this. A corked wine is one that has a TCA (2,4,6 trichloroanisole) tainted cork. It will smell like wet newspapers. An oxidized wine has had too much oxygen introduced into it at some point: either during the wine making process, as the result of a poorly sealed bottle, or waiting too long to finish a bottle. An oxidized wine will turn brown (whites will get darker, reds become a bit lighter) and they will take on sherry-like notes.

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  11. I feel you on the synthetic cork, but I am adding my own rant. This just happened last night at Arooji’s Ristorante and Wine Room here in Charlotte. The waitress (who must have just been hired from Johnny Rockets) refused to tell us the specials until we selected our wine. I had to then explain the importance of WINE PAIRING. I feel better now….

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  12. Stefano says:

    I hear you re synthetic, Jeff, although I have to say I am not 100% enthused about screw caps either, especially for reds. I have come to accept them for whites (there’s hardly any New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that has anything other than a screw cap for a stopper!) but I still struggle with quality reds. I am sorry, but to me they look just as cheap as synthetics (except that, as you pointed out, at least you don’t have the deception effect there!) To me, important red wine = real cork. Period. And I am willing to take my chances with the risk of ending up with a corked bottle. Besides, I second Julia’s comments above regarding the question marks about the effectiveness of screw caps in wines that may undergo considerable aging. There was an interesting interview given by the winemaker of Chateau Margaux about that very issue a while back.

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    • You know, I battled with the Stelvin for quite a while–I agreed with you that it just seemed cheap. But I have done a 180. Now I am pretty close to preferring the twist off. On so many levels I think it outperforms….

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