Wine Corks are made out of different materials for several reasons, and some will impact your decision on what type of cork to buy. You also have different grades of cork to confuse things even more, but once you understand what each type can do for you we think it will be much easier to make a decision.
First Quality Corks
Let’s first talk about the cork that most wine makers use, the First Quality Cork. This is a standard cork material that does well for short to medium storage times. It is not unusual for a #9 X 1¾” cork to store a wine bottle for 5 years or more, based on our experience. They allow more air to transfer than some of the more expensive corks, but they do a pretty good job for most home winemakers. Keep in mind that proper wine storage is vital with this type of cork.
The next level up is the Premium Cork. These corks are usually made up of bits of cork that are pressed together to form the entire cork. These will work a little better because there are fewer gaps in the cork, and that leads to less air transfer. Simply put, the less air transfer, the longer the wine will store.
Another type of cork is the all synthetic cork. These are the corks that look like a dense sponge when you pull them out of the bottle. The nice thing with this type of cork is because it is made out of synthetic material you do not have to store the bottle on its side. Only corks made with cork need to be stored on their side because the cork will dry out otherwise. Some argue that an all synthetic cork helps the wine store for a longer period of time and are more consistent (low fail rate, no chance of cork taint). They will not swell or shrink along with the glass so a consistent storage temperature is still required. There are synthetic/natural cork blends called agglomerated corks which offer the best of both worlds and usually the best choice for long term storage, if you can source them. Make sure that you store the wine properly if it’s being stored long-term.
Corks are very important to the storage of wine because the cork is the only thing preventing air from coming into contact with the wine. If you plan on making a wine and aging it for a long time, spend the extra money on a good cork. This is one area where you get what you pay for. Don’t expect a wine to store for 10 years with a low-end cork because they are not designed to store a wine for long periods of time. A lot of wine makers use the lower end corks because their wine may not age very long before being consumed and a very small amount of oxygen can have positive effects on the wine that is quick to market. There are those that have wine cellars, or good storage areas, that treat their homemade wine just as well as they would a good bottle of commercial wine. This author is one of them. I love pulling out a wine that I made 5 years ago and trying it today. It is amazing how wonderful the wine tastes with that much age time on it. Don’t be afraid, or embarrassed, to treat your wine the same way as you would a commercial bottle of wine. Your wine can be every bit as good, even better, than a lot of commercial wines out there. Just be sure to use the right cork!