It has been a while since I have had a good rant. I guess I could say that I have not had much to rant about, but that would be far too simple. In the grand scheme of things, I am rather fortunate: two healthy kids, a loving wife (yeah, surprises me too), and a blog that is increasingly popular (if numbers are any indication).
The other day, though, I broke my favorite corkscrew. The worm, the curly part of the corkscrew, snapped as I was trying to extract a cork. I realize that this is what is commonly referred to as a “first world” problem–but it is still a problem, nonetheless.
I have opened thousands of bottles with this corkscrew, so why did it break now? Perhaps it was old and tired (doubtful). The corkscrew could have been of inferior quality and I was on borrowed time (does “Laguiole” mean anything to you?). Maybe it was user error (um, no).
So what was it? Well, the only thing I can come up with is that the cork was not cork at all, but was synthetic–and those “corks” are notorious for being very difficult to remove.
That got me thinking about synthetic stoppers: Why do they exist? What is the theory behind them? Why are they now the scourge of my existence?
First, the positives:
- Synthetic stoppers eliminates the possibility of cork taint. Depending on the source, cork taint (see corked on the Terms page) affects anywhere from 1-10%, and the synthetic stopper virtually eliminates cork taint.
- Synthetic stoppers are cheaper than corks. OK, you want to save a buck, I get it.
- I have heard that they are recyclable. They might be recyclable, but I am really not sure if and how that happens.
- I think I am out of positives.
Now the negatives:
- Synthetic stoppers are not as pliable as cork and can leak. According to Dr. Vinny “Synthetic corks are supposed to expand and seal instantly, but some of the synthetic corks can be firm and not as squishy as natural cork, so they don’t rebound as well after being compressed. I’ve certainly come across some leaky ones in my experience….”
- They just scream “Cheap!” Let’s face it, whenever something “natural” is replaced by something plastic, it is almost always done to save money. I have nothing against saving money, but I do have something against being cheap. Anytime I remove the foil and see a synthetic stopper, I feel as if I had been deceived.
- Environmental impact. Sure, synthetic stoppers are supposedly recyclable, but they have to be produced in the first place, which has far worse impact on the environment than cork trees.
- Restoring the bottle with synthetic stopper is virtually impossible. I guess there are some people out there who do not finish a bottle once open and actually want to save the rest of the wine for a later time (I heard they exist, but I have yet to meet such a person). Well, good luck getting that hunk of plastic back in the bottle.
- A synthetic stopper broke my favorite corkscrew. Clearly this is a negative–I am distraught. OK, that might be a bit over-the-top (but it is close).
Conclusion: Synthetic stoppers are kind of like civil unions–they claim to perform the same purpose as the real thing, but really, they are just a cheap imitation.
Screw caps are the answer (gay marriage analogy breaks down here, but that is beside the point).
There are certainly some arguments against screw caps (aka Stelvin Closures):
- Many people see wines closed with a screw cap as cheap. Certainly in the past, this was the case, but no longer. Many top end producers (Siduri, Loring, Argyle come to mind) have moved to full on Stelvin. Good enough for me.
Some argue that there is some sort of “romantic” attachment to opening a bottle of wine with a cork screw. Look, the screw cap is a better closure than a synthetic stopper. Period. I look at it as progress–just because it is new and easier (see #4) it is not “worse”. Is there anything romantic about having to turn the key before starting a car? Or having to actually dial a phone number? Or having to re-fill the ice cube trays? No, no, and no.
- Some claim that screw caps do not allow the micro-oxygenation of wine, thus preventing development. People who claim that there is a difference between cork and a screw top are likely the same ones to claim there is a difference between vinyl and digital music. Sure, there might be a tiny difference, but 99.8% of the population can’t tell (or don’t care). I had a bottle of 2004 Argyle Sprithouse Pinot Noir the other day (that was closed with a screw cap) and although I did not have the same wine closed with cork for comparison, but that wine was fabulous.
- Screw caps are exceedingly easy to open and they will not cause you to break your favorite corkscrew!
In the end, I can’t see a single reason to use a synthetic stopper instead of a screw cap, can you?