Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.
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
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.
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