Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Does wine age the same under synthetic and natural corks?
—Jerry, St. Helena Island, S.C.
It's hard to say with certainty. Because natural corks have been wine's standard closure for centuries, there’s simply more data and experience as to how a wine will age under natural cork vs. alternative closures.
Synthetic corks are most frequently used for wines that aren't intended to age particularly long, but the materials used and technologies applied to synthetic corks have both improved since they were introduced. Winemakers can now order synthetic corks with customized levels of oxygen permeability, designed to mimic that of a natural cork. I should also add that I’ve been lucky enough to sit down to lengthy verticals of wines bottled under screwcaps, and I’m a fan of these closures as well, which can also be customized for oxygen permeability.
Each closure has its pros and cons. Natural corks can dry out or crumble, and they can taint a wine with TCA, the chemical compound that causes “corky” aromas. There are several types of synthetic corks, and petroleum-based versions can be particular difficult to remove. And screwcaps can leak if they're dented. No closure is perfect, but I’ve never picked a wine (or not) based on its closure.