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Whenever I pull the capsule off a bottle of wine, and I see a rubber stopper, I'm instantly jaded against the wine. I try not to jump to conclusions based up packaging, but I can't help it. I'm biased against synthetic 'corks'. I know some people, I'm sure you know them too, who choose wines based upon whether or not they like the label. In the same way, I specifically try to avoid wines sealed with rubber stoppers instead of a natural cork. I feel like when I see a rubber stopper, the winery just doesn't care about the wine. Wine makers that give a damn about their wine use twist tops, or natural cork. What do you think? Are you biased about stoppers, labels, bottle shape, whatever?
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It seems that rubber corks are becoming less commonly used. They're usually used on wines meant for early consumption, and it makes better sense, in my opinion, to use a screw cap on those rather than a corkscrew-busting rubber stopper.

I'm optimistic that the cork industry will clean up its act at the producer and processing level to reduce the rate of cork taint so that consumers can have better confidence in cork closures in the future for age-worthy wines.

Alternatively, if anyone can definitively prove that wines age well under screw cap, that would be even more ideal.
quote:
Originally posted by matthyson:
I'm still waiting for the Alcoa "vino-seal" glass stopper to really catch on. The only winery I'm aware of using it in NA is Calara and it quickly became my favorite type of enclosure.


Matthyson, I think there was a nebbiolo under that closure type. Can't remeber by who though.

Roentgen Ray, the last bottle of wine I had with a closure like that was a Hauts Chassis and it was good. I do associate those kind of closures with cheap wine like Smoking Loon or wines to drink in a year or less. Do they make age-worthy wines with plastic corks?
For the most part I agree w W+A, but I did have one "corked" wine that had a plastic cork. Very upsetting.

Otherwise, they avoid TCA better than real cork, but have some problems of their own. First, they aren't as compressible and don't expand as well as cork. So when you put them into the bottle, they never expand to fill the neck. That means they have to be a tighter fit to start. That's OK, but since the machines get jammed sometimes, some producers use a stopper that's just a hair smaller than it should be. Seems to work pretty well, but doesn't really make a perfect seal. Drink those wines fast.

Second problem is that they strip the teflon off your corkscrew if you open a lot of them and if you've got teflon on the corkscrew in the first place.

Third problem is that they don't compost. So if you throw them into your compost pile, and if they're nicely colored - yellow, red, purple, etc., your pile looks more like a garbage dump.

Nonetheless, I NEVER hold it against the winery when I see a plastic stopper. I figure the winery is doing its best to reduce the cost of the wine where taking the cheap route doesn't matter, and also to reduce the chance of contamination. Those are pluses IMO.
quote:
Originally posted by matthyson:
I'm still waiting for the Alcoa "vino-seal" glass stopper to really catch on. The only winery I'm aware of using it in NA is Calara and it quickly became my favorite type of enclosure.

Northwest Totem Cellars uses these, and although I do favor their wines, I have to admit the stopper is part of the reason I buy them. I've got quite a little collection now, as they're great for stoppering leftover wine. Sometimes it's difficult to fit a bottle in the fridge with the cork sticking up.

As for rubber corks, I am always disappointed when I see one.
Von Strasser has started to use the glass stoppers on some of their bottles which we think seem pretty classy, Schrader uses the rubber stoppers on their Double Diamond Cabs, which we think are some of the best Cabs in the $35/bottle range, and Quixote uses screw tops on everything but their large format bottles. We still have issues with screw tops because of our preconceived notions, and we don't think they're great for laying down.
quote:
Originally posted by spo:
quote:
Originally posted by matthyson:
I'm still waiting for the Alcoa "vino-seal" glass stopper to really catch on. The only winery I'm aware of using it in NA is Calara and it quickly became my favorite type of enclosure.


Matthyson, I think there was a nebbiolo under that closure type. Can't remeber by who though.

Roentgen Ray, the last bottle of wine I had with a closure like that was a Hauts Chassis and it was good. I do associate those kind of closures with cheap wine like Smoking Loon or wines to drink in a year or less. Do they make age-worthy wines with plastic corks?


One of the risks of an airtight seal, that you can get from a screw top, or rubber stopper, is that the wine can become reductive, which will make it smell of rubber.

As for aging, all wines should age regardless of their closure. The rate of oxygen transfer across the closure, temperature of storage, SO2 in the bottle, head space, these will all affect the rate of aging.
quote:
Originally posted by mitPradikat:

Alternatively, if anyone can definitively prove that wines age well under screw cap, that would be even more ideal.


All reports I have seen about aging under synthetic or screw cap closure is that the aging occurs a little more slowly. There is debate as to whether or not a wine benefits from microoxidation during the aging process. Another question to answer is what happens to these types of closures over 20, 30, 50+ years plus. Will they hold up? If not, you may have to recap them, not dissimilar from corks which slowly decompose over the years as well. Haut-Brion experimented with screw tops. The put some of their 1969s under screw cap, the plastic film in the cap cracked, and the wine oxidized, so they abandoned the experiment. Nonetheless, I still cringe when I see those hard rubber stoppers in my bottle, for the many reasons listed above.
quote:
Originally posted by Roentgen Ray:

One of the risks of an airtight seal, that you can get from a screw top, or rubber stopper, is that the wine can become reductive, which will make it smell of rubber.

As Greg pointed out earlier, synthetic corks are FAR from airtight, and have, in fact, the highest rate of oxygen transmission of any commercial closure. Wines under synthetics-- especially the molded type--don't keep long, with an upper range generally regarded to be five or six years for the more tannic reds.

And on a technical note, closures do not cause or make wine reductive. Wine is generally made in a reductive environment and is therefore bottled reductive. Reduction is a winemaking issue, and the closure can ameliorate or exacerbate the manifestations of the condition, but they cannot cause it.

To wit, one could bottle an oxydized wine (e.g. Madeira) under tin wad screwcap (the type with the lowest oxtrans rates) and it will never, ever be reductive.
quote:
Originally posted by matthyson:
I'm still waiting for the Alcoa "vino-seal" glass stopper to really catch on. The only winery I'm aware of using it in NA is Calara and it quickly became my favorite type of enclosure.


I love the glass corks. Doolittle Farms from spring mountain uses them also. I also have seen them from an Italian producer Loaker.
Synthetic corks do seem to cause problems down the road. I believe this is much of the problem with the early 2000's Behrens and Hitchcock wines that were so highly regarded by RMP that are now virtually undrinkable. I also think that I read Brian Loring say somewhere that the future problems is why he went from the black synthetic closure to screw cap.

Other wineries that use the glass stopper are Whitehall Lane and Sbragia. I believe that WHL only uses is on selected wines, and I do know that Sbragia only uses it on Sauvignon Blanc.
quote:
Originally posted by Dom'n'Vin'sDad:
Synthetic corks do seem to cause problems down the road. I believe this is much of the problem with the early 2000's Behrens and Hitchcock wines that were so highly regarded by RMP that are now virtually undrinkable. I also think that I read Brian Loring say somewhere that the future problems is why he went from the black synthetic closure to screw cap.

Other wineries that use the glass stopper are Whitehall Lane and Sbragia. I believe that WHL only uses is on selected wines, and I do know that Sbragia only uses it on Sauvignon Blanc.


I toured Loring winery a few years ago and was treated to a great look at his winery. He makes some good Pinot. We talked about Burgundy red wines, which he is a fan of, and stated he had recently went to a wine tasting event. He took a bottle and Grands Echezeaux, which he was excited about. To his chagrin, it was corked. You can say that's no big deal, but when you buy a product that has such potential, you don't want to see it lost to the cork, if there is a better option.
quote:
Originally posted by RonBurgundy:
Opened an Olivier Leflaive "Les Setilles" last night that was closed with a Guala Seal. Interesting three-piece closure system that looks like a rubber cork with a tiny condom on the bottom.


That's unique. I have never seen a closure like that. So what was the product that actually contacted the wine? Was is plastic?
quote:
Originally posted by sade58:
quote:
Originally posted by RonBurgundy:
Opened an Olivier Leflaive "Les Setilles" last night that was closed with a Guala Seal. Interesting three-piece closure system that looks like a rubber cork with a tiny condom on the bottom.


I dont like condoms in my wine..




I read that if you put a condom in a corked wine, it doesn't taste corked anymore.
quote:
Originally posted by wine+art:
The only flawed wines that I have had in 30 years of enjoying wine used cork as their closure, so I'm fine with alternative closures.

The only flawed closures that I have had in 50 years of enjoying wine used cork. Although at that time we didn't have a proper corkscrew :-))

In Switzerland you can't sell reds with anything other than a natural cork. That's what the customer insists on, right or wrong, at all price levels. You can only sell cheap whites and rosés with screw caps or synthetic corks.

Recently we dined in a rather good restaurant (Chateau Gütsch overlooking Lucerne), where they have a french sommelier who is reputed to be one of the best. My wife took the opportunity to ask him what he considered to be the best closure. He was very careful about his reply and he said that the best wines use the best corks which can cost up to 2 dollars each.

Now, the point is, a good restaurant has little choice. If you order an expensive wine they have to bring a bottle in perfect condition with a perfect natural cork, it has to be perfectly withdrawn and it has to smell and taste perfect.

That's how the top wines have to be. It's a question of marketing.
I would love to see some winemakers chime in here, but I do believe (based on prior iterations of this discussion) that most wineries can get absolute top grade cork from reputable producers with proven low failure rate for far, far less than $1 and probably less than .25. I'm not saying that there aren't more expensive out there, but what difference really is made?

I suspect that the synthetics have a vastly higher failure rate over three years than the natural corks as far as that goes. OTOH I am fine with screw caps for the short term but skeptical for aging.

Lastly, as far as I have seen German producers have been the largest adopters of the glass closure, and I have found it to be an interesting idea but have far too little data to know how this effects the longer view. It does seem that the corks previously used by German producers (at least in my wine buying lifetime) were amongst the worst in the wine world, so any change may well be a good change.
quote:
Originally posted by Seaquam:
quote:
Originally posted by sade58:
quote:
Originally posted by RonBurgundy:
Opened an Olivier Leflaive "Les Setilles" last night that was closed with a Guala Seal. Interesting three-piece closure system that looks like a rubber cork with a tiny condom on the bottom.


I dont like condoms in my wine..




I read that if you put a condom in a corked wine, it doesn't taste corked anymore.


Especially if you use a flavored condom.
Ron,

Thanks for the informative link.
I was just today reading marketing material put out by a synthetic cork supplier that purported to give all the reasons for failure of the seal.

One factor that was never mentioned was the elongation of the stopper in response to compression. That explains why most synthetic stoppers eventually allow more oxygen transmission, no matter how close the tolerance is kept in the initial fit.
It is an interesting little contraption and it seems that Ardea Seal has put a lot of thought into its design. Something like 130 Burgundy producers are using it, so it has some backing (and yes, I do realize the 130 producers is less than a drop in the proverbial bucket).

I must say that my first Vino-Lok was more exciting! I still have it an use it to stop a bottle of olive oil that was closed with a cork.
quote:
Originally posted by Sleepyhaus:
I would love to see some winemakers chime in here, but I do believe (based on prior iterations of this discussion) that most wineries can get absolute top grade cork from reputable producers with proven low failure rate for far, far less than $1 and probably less than .25. I'm not saying that there aren't more expensive out there, but what difference really is made?

I suspect that the synthetics have a vastly higher failure rate over three years than the natural corks as far as that goes. OTOH I am fine with screw caps for the short term but skeptical for aging.

Lastly, as far as I have seen German producers have been the largest adopters of the glass closure, and I have found it to be an interesting idea but have far too little data to know how this effects the longer view. It does seem that the corks previously used by German producers (at least in my wine buying lifetime) were amongst the worst in the wine world, so any change may well be a good change.

I'm not a winemaker, but I am pretty sure there is no way you can buy "absolute top grade" corks for "far less than $1," or for anywhere near .25¢. I usually deal with EU wineries, and I most often hear a range from .80 Euro cents to 1.5 Euros for what the winemakers say are top grade corks. I don't think it's the case with my winemakers that they inflate the cork costs to prop up their wine prices, particularly since these are quite expensive wines anyway, but even if I do allow for some exaggeration, I can't see cost getting "far below" $1; chopping off 25% from the top and bottom of that range still lands the range, in USD, .80¢-$1.50. I even know of an amazing, proprietary 4pc cork made exclusively for Boerl & Kroff Champagne that costs an astounding €12!

The difference made between the grades of corks is more consistent performance over longer periods. I'm also pretty sure highest grade corks have lower risk of tainting wine, as there are fewer imperfections in the cork where dangerous compounds (e.g. TCA) can form, and later, through which wine can soak reaching those compounds.
As usual, I think Chaad is right. Here is a company that sells corks if you're interested:

Widget CO

Their top end cork is around fifty cents if you buy 10,000 or more. But it's a 1 3/4 inch cork, which is kind of the base level for most people who are paying for a premium wine. Don't you want to see a 2 inch cork come out of your bottle? Somehow that seems more serious. And those are usually the best material too.

Not only that, those longer corks will often have gone through extensive cleaning and testing. There are a lot of people selling cork, and this is an ironic instance where the small, artisinal cork maker/dealer is what the small, artisinal winemaker should avoid. In fact, the winemaker should deal with the large industrial corkmakers who can vouch for the cleaning and the provenance of their corks, from the tree to the bottle.

And then the winery may do additional testing. Vega Sicilia for example, sends their corks to a facility in Bordeaux for examination. All that costs money. And it's unnecessary in the case of rubber corks. Then, if you're a smaller, boutique winery, you don't get the volume discounts either.

Of course, at the end of the day, I'd rather that the winery spent a buck or more for the cork and used a cheap bottle, rather than have some high-shoulder bottle and a cheaper cork.
Great topic... and one that is very much a moving target-- cork processes and process controls have improved considerably over the last 5-years, or so. But, the performance of synthetic closures has also improved considerably.

Regarding the size of corks:

A 49mm cork is generally regarded as a 2"-cork. Like lumber dimensions, they're not exactly 2".

We buy our corks from Amorim (http://www.amorimcork.com/default_alternate.html) , they are the highest domestic grade available, 2" size, and they cost $0.84 each. Their performance has been very good. They offer a higher grade from Europe, special order, called "Fina". I believe those are somewhere between $1.10 and $1.25 ea.

Depending on the producer, the price may be just cosmetic (the absence and size / type of of imperfections), or it may have to do with both appearance and their testing performance.

On the other hand, I've increasingly become enamoured with Noma Corks:

http://www.nomacorc.com/nomaco...Wh1KUCFce7KgodfVfDmQ

These are great closures, and by most accounts, they perform extremely well. I like the way they go in, and come out. I also like the fact that storing wine upside down, or on its side, is no longer essential. I like the fact that they are consistent. I also like the fact that they are considerably less expensive; however, I don't really consider that a major decision point for a wine like Le Cadeau. The fact is, my current view is that all things considered, they are a better closure.

We've made the move on some of our less costly wines, but based on what I'm seeing in terms of performance, it's very tempting to make the move across the board.

Still... there are those nagging issues of "perception" and "romance"...
quote:
Originally posted by BHVineyard:
Great topic... and one that is very much a moving target-- cork processes and process controls have improved considerably over the last 5-years, or so. But, the performance of synthetic closures has also improved considerably.

Regarding the size of corks:

A 49mm cork is generally regarded as a 2"-cork. Like lumber dimensions, they're not exactly 2".

We buy our corks from Amorim (http://www.amorimcork.com/default_alternate.html) , they are the highest domestic grade available, 2" size, and they cost $0.84 each. Their performance has been very good. They offer a higher grade from Europe, special order, called "Fina". I believe those are somewhere between $1.10 and $1.25 ea.

Depending on the producer, the price may be just cosmetic (the absence and size / type of of imperfections), or it may have to do with both appearance and their testing performance.

On the other hand, I've increasingly become enamoured with Noma Corks:

http://www.nomacorc.com/nomaco...Wh1KUCFce7KgodfVfDmQ

These are great closures, and by most accounts, they perform extremely well. I like the way they go in, and come out. I also like the fact that storing wine upside down, or on its side, is no longer essential. I like the fact that they are consistent. I also like the fact that they are considerably less expensive; however, I don't really consider that a major decision point for a wine like Le Cadeau. The fact is, my current view is that all things considered, they are a better closure.

We've made the move on some of our less costly wines, but based on what I'm seeing in terms of performance, it's very tempting to make the move across the board.

Still... there are those nagging issues of "perception" and "romance"...

BHV,

Yes, the extruded type synthetics, like the Nomacorc, are much better than the molded type synthetics in terms of performance (e.g. OTR, extraction ease), but probably allow twice the amount of oxygen as the best performing corks.

I'm curious what kind of OTR numbers Nomacorc is showing you, or what they're saying lifespan of your wine would be like? What are your expectations of the drinking time range for your wines?
I'm curious too. The 49mm cork, with no blemishes is what people tout as top of the line. I'd be interested in knowing what the Nomacorc people claim for their products, and how they determined the oxygen transmission optimum. I like the idea though.

As far as perception and romance, if someone finds romance in a cork, that person needs to get a life. It's packaging for God's sake. No more romantic than cereal boxes and the plastic bags for your jockey shorts.
GregT, Chaad, et.al.,

I've not talked directly with Noma-- will do so in the near future. Given my comments above, I know that is sort-of a "huh?"... , but my primary input on the topic is via Ken Wright, and some personal experience.

I'm reluctant to share that input in any detail as it was via a conversation with Ken and I don't know whether or not he intended any portion of that conversation, or all of it, to be confidential or public. And in either case, I most certainly would not want to misrepresent anything that he said.

What I am comfortable saying, because it is publicly known / verifiable, is that Ken has used Noma corks for a meaningful number of years (so there is some "history" for the findings / views). He has had VERY good success / consistency with the closure both for short-term and "longer-term" cellaring of OR Pinot Noir. (That, of course, begs the question as to what is one's definition of "longer-term"... in this case, I'm talking practical experience in the 6 to 8-years from vintage date sort-of timeframe... and I'm not suggesting that is the limit, but rather what has been evaluated).

That said, you are correct that the one notable performance issue is the impact of the closure on the life span of the wine. In this regard, the appropriateness of the closure would be driven by the intended and / or typical consumption timeframe of a particular wine. At the same time, what needs to be stirred into the comparison is the failure and / or negative impact incidence of natural cork. It is a mistake to look at a prospective early-aged wine with a synthetic cork, and compare it to the aging of natural cork... while assuming that every bottle of natural cork wine will age perfectly. Put another way, I dumped a bottle of 1990 Ceretto Bricco Asili down the drain a year or two ago... the wine was in great shape, except that it was undrinkable. I am sure that we have all shared similar unfortunate experiences from time to time.

Please don't get me wrong; Le Cadeau is still in natural cork and that is an intentional decision (obviously). I'm just noting that there's at least one synthetic closure "out there" that seems to be worthy of serious consideration. It certainly has my attention.

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