Should closure influence my purchasing?

Enjoyed a 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir last night which I felt was a good QPR at just over $20, as well as having the tannin and structure to age a bit (I think), and I’m considering getting a few more. The only thing that gave me pause is that the bottle has a synthetic “cork” closure…should this sort of thing influence me one way or the other? The bottle I had, of course, has held up to this point and I probably would consume any additional bottles within 2-3 years. Buy or pass, and why?

Plastic corks are really cheap, so I doubt anyone is using those on wine that’s expected to be kept for a while. If you had said they were screwcapped, I’d say load up.

There are a few problems with plastic corks. I haven’t found many of these with wines from the US, but I have with wines from elsewhere. One thing that some people seem to do is get the cork just a hair smaller than it’s supposed to be so they can slide it into the bottle easier. And your wine gets oxidized fast.

Plus I think they wear the teflon off your corkscrews faster too.

In general plastic corks mean ‘drink this wine within a year’ to me. As far as buying it goes, that is the only pause I would have. If it was an extremely backward wine that had potential but was hard to enjoy today then I might pass. But if you like it today then go for it.

We recently had a bottle of 2003 R. Stuart Pinot Noir that was sealed with a plastic cork and was perfect. I’ve discussed the issue of plastic corks with Rob Stuart in the past, and he feels that plastic corks can work as well as any other closure if done properly, but that seems to be the stumbling point.

ON the other hand, R. Stuart recently moved to either screw-caps or glass stoppers, and I think that part of the reason is that people don’t take plastic corked wine seriously.

Good quality synthetics are fine for wines intended for drinking within a few years of release. Of course, there are many different types of synthetics - extruded = better than injection moulded.

I have no problems with them, but I won’t cellar a synthetic-sealed bottle for more than a couple of years. But the converse to this is that some wines can actually taste better when they are sealed with a synthetic cork if they are drunk soon after release, because the oxygen transmission helps the wine.

I generally shy away from anything but natural cork or screw-top for any kind of aging, and for me the conversion to screw-top is still up in the air. No synthetic, no composite cork, no glass.

I wouldn’t worry about bottles you intend to drink this year but wouldn’t lay any down.

As Greg and Jamie mentioned, the bugaboo with synthetics is ox-trans, which is quite high compared to corks and screwcaps, so the wines will mature, or advance, more quickly. I understand the conventional wisdom to be that the synths maintain a wine for 3-5 years.

Within that range, the extruded type (e.g. Nomacork) will be at the longer end, and the molded type at the shorter end. There is an interesting new type of synthetic cork, which I guess we could call a “techno-synth,” represented by the Guala Seal, that employs multiple pieces and materials to improve performance. If the pinot is question is sealed with this thing, I don’t know what to say about the expected lifespan as I’ve never seen any independent data on the Guala performance.

Beyond the closure, as Jamie said, the type of wine within the bottle will be a major factor in determining the ultimate range. If it’s tannic and built, then it might go out beyond the conventional 5yr window. The fact remains that, for aging, synth sealed bottles are far from the best choice.

Anyway, it sounds like this '06 pinot is a good bet to buy for consuming over the next 2-3 years, although the delicate aromatics of pinot noir are just the type of component to fade quickly in a highly oxygenated environment.

The argument in pictures:

From what I’ve been able to surmise, the idea that oxygen transpiration through a slightly permeable cork is a major factor in proper aging (as opposed to simple oxidation) is specious at best. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, please share it!
I do not know if the studies have been done (and this whole conversation should center around proper evidence, never anecdote) for enough time to make definitive statements on the great variety of synthetic corks. However, I would, and do, buy screwcap-closed wines with confidence in both their quality on opening, and their ability to age properly. I have no such confidence in natural cork closure.
I tend to look at it thusly: if screwcap closures had been in use for many decades, and someone came along and said, “Hey, here’s a better idea…let’s stick a piece of a tree in there instead,” how would that hold up?

I’m in agreement with others that synthetic cork closures are not for long-term aging. It could be I’m prejudiced that way. Real cork’s track record is what it is, and I know of medium-term aging experiments with screwcaps vs. cork (Novy, Carlisle) which yielded good results for the screwcap. Some high-end wine makers who dabbled with synthetics have however switched back to cork (Behrens & Hitchcock, Acacia, Chalone). Therefore I think cork or screw, or it’s a near-term drinker.

Did anyone look at the pics or article that caused me to dredge this up from the grave?

I did, others may not. We tend to look less closely at evidence that does not support our biases and suppositions, even if it’s good evidence.

It was an interesting article, but I couldn’t get past this - “It is well known that screw cap closures eliminate cork taint (TCA) and premature oxidization”

I didn’t realize that was “settled science”. Could’ve probably gone with it if the comment used “reduces the possibility of” as opposed to “eliminate”.

To me the most interesting thing was the pictures.

Would you settle for ‘screw caps eliminate TCA from closures, which cause most TCA contamination’?

I don’t think anyone knows what causes the premature oxidation that has plagued Burgundy, for example, but random oxidation from failed cork seals is indeed a problem that is avoided by screwcaps.

I’d be all over quality white Burgs offered under screwcap. I don’t know for certain what it would change about premox, but I’d be willing to put my bets there (assuming the wine was otherwise attractive in price and quality).

After trying a few of those Behrens & Hitchcock reds, though, plus a few others (Bracaia Tre is another one), I avoid the synthetic corks.

I think the reason that most producers use synthetic corks is that they don’t have to change their bottling machine or their glass.

I wouldn’t buy wines that I was intending to age under synthetics; even the manufacturers of the closures don’t suggest long aging. I am pushing my producers to move to screwcap, and more and more of them are agreeing to do so.

I’ve been amassing wines under screw cap since the 2001 vintage. I am more convinced each year that it is the right closure. Recent examples from 2003, 2004 and 2007 (Riesling and Gruner Veltliner) have all been fresh and correct with positive development.

After tasting through a couple early vintages here at the winery that were bottled under cork and Stelvin, I have to say that I’ve become a bigger believer in screw caps than ever. Katheen, our winemaker, chooses to use the Stelvin tin liners that allow no oxygen permeation, and after tasting through the library several times, I can attest that the wines do age, and they age well. Another big point that she always makes is the fact that cap closure wines require less SO2 at bottling than cork, which allows for better aromatics.

Full disclosure: I obviously work for a winery that only uses Stelvin closures. [cheers.gif]