Monday, May 10th, 2010

Put a Cork In It…with Plastics

Following a long day at the office, nothing beats a nice glass of wine. Be it red or white, paired with a meal or by itself, wine is that delicate ribbon that wraps up and improves a perfectly awful day.

After recently having such a day, I popped open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, poured a glass and, to my horror, discovered tiny bits of cork floating on the surface. While rectifying the situation, I questioned why in the 400 or so years since Dom Perignon developed the wine cork we haven’t come up with a solution to this irritating problem.

Actually, we have. It’s called the plastic cork.

Just for a bit of background, the traditional wine cork is harvested from the Quercus Suber or cork oak found in Spain and Portugal, which is carefully stripped of its bark and eventually processed into the recognizable wine stopper.  Although it’s traditional, and has been used to preserve some of the finest wines in the world, it is also responsible for a condition known as “cork taint,” dry cork and cork disintegration. 

Now I may consider myself a “traditionalist,” but when it comes to my wine, I am willing to throw out my beliefs to ensure quality.  The plastic cork will not disintegrate, will not produce “cork taint,” is recyclable, and is much easier to remove from the bottle. Although some argue that it impedes the natural maturation process, wine rarely stays around my house long enough to mature. I have come to love the plastic cork.

Apparently, others agree. According to a Wall Street Journal article, over the last decade an estimated 20% of the bottle stopper market has been replaced by plastic corks. The article describes how Marc Noel, a plastics extruder in North Carolina, started Nomacorc, a plastic cork business that “broke the centuries-old cork monopoly,” calling it a ”lesson in how innovation, timing and hustle combined to exploit an opening in a once airtight market.” 

Noel’s innovation was to produce corks with two kinds of extruded plastic: a hard inner core that would maintain the cork’s shape and a softer exterior that would fit better. Other plastic cork  manufacturers -  including  Supreme Corq and Neocork - soon joined the market.

And don’t forget - many fine wines now come in plastic wine bottles.

Cheers!

One Response to “Put a Cork In It…with Plastics”

  1. I can see the advantages of plastic corks over “real” cork to eliminate trichloroanisole contamination.

    However, are there advantages of plastic corks over other materials (metal screwcaps or glass stoppers) that don’t require a special tool — a corkscrew — to remove?

    -Dave

    http://twitter.com/materialsdave

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