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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I'm having an argument with my brother over alternatives to cork, and we need your help settling it. We need to know: Should we run away when we see a screwcap bottle of wine? How about synthetic corks? And finally, is real cork really becoming scarce, and would we therefore be making eco-sense by supporting these alternatives?

—Mario, Bogota, Colombia

Dear Mario,

Nothing like some good old-fashioned sibling rivalry! Don't run away when you see a screwcap or a synthetic cork. Many producers are switching to these closures to help ensure quality and reduce the possibility of contamination with TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), which can infect a wine through faulty corks and bring nasty odors of musty, damp cellars and wet newspapers. The decision to switch closures isn't so much an eco-friendly decision as a way to address the TCA issue. TCA can also be a systemic problem, affecting entire cellars or wineries (wood + chlorine = TCA danger), but natural corks are estimated to create TCA contamination in as many as 10 percent of the wines out there.

In case you do hug a tree every now and again (as I do), you'll be happy to know that cork trees may live for more than 200 years, and they aren't cut down to be used. A cork tree is harvested around its 50th birthday, and then it's only the bark that's stripped every 8 to 12 years.

—Dr. Vinny

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