Currently, plastic wine corks are being used to cork wine with greater regularity. Those who use them point to several advantages that plastic has over cork harvested from trees. The most frequent reasons given are that plastic is not vulnerable to cork taint, and thus better protects wine. As well, some manufacturers cite a shortage of available cork for use.
The first reason to use plastic wine corks is not disputed. Plastic corks are not subject to cork taint. They are also easier to get out of a wine bottle since they do not disintegrate. However, most wine experts feel that wine corked with plastic does not age as well as that with natural corks. Plastic allows for less air exchange and thus wine does not get the benefit of maturation.
Most wine experts feel that wine with plastic wine corks is fine as long as one plans to consume the wine quickly. However, they still feel regular cork should be used for wines one plans to store. Unfortunately, stored wines are much more subject to cork taint, as supporters of plastic quickly point out. Since the taint may not be visible, one may store wines that are no good.
To use plastic wine corks to address cork tree shortage is another debatable point. Currently, cork trees in the forests of Portugal would provide enough cork for 100 years of wine manufacturing. A cork tree is not killed when cork is harvested, making it an environmentally friendly process.
Plastic corks are recyclable. However, many fear that greater reliance on plastic might make cork trees yet another victim of society’s advancements. Cork trees may lose their purpose and thus their lives if all wine manufacturers switch to other corking methods. On the other hand, over-dependence on harvested corks could create an ultimate deficit in cork supply if more trees are not planted.
It would seem the happy medium might be to use plastic wine corks for wines meant to be purchased and consumed immediately. Manufacturers of wine then might choose cork from cork trees for wines meant to be stored a few years before drinking. This does not entirely eliminate worries about cork taint, but this problem tends to occur in a very small percentage of stored wines, and is thus likely to only pose the occasional problem.