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Faux cork is a synthetic material meant to mimic the properties of natural cork, typically used as an alternative sealant for wine and alcohol bottles. Since the invention of faux cork, wine lovers have raged in ongoing battle about whether traditional or synthetic corks are better for wine and safer for the environment. Faux cork is typically made out of plastic, or a combination of plastic and other synthetic materials.
Several reasons are given by experts as contributing to the widespread development of faux cork in the 1990s. First, the increased levels of wine production in the 20th century led to an environmental strain on the trees that produce natural cork. Second, natural cork has the disadvantage of being susceptible to bacterial rot, which can ruin wine by imparting a musty flavor. Third, natural cork became increasingly expensive, in part as a result of the environmental strain on the crop. These issues combined lead to significant demand for a synthetic cork alternative.
The original faux cork products solved some, but not all of the issues associated with natural cork. Primarily, their success was due to the fact that they eliminated the chance for rotting, thus protecting the wine. Additionally, they were significantly less expensive to produce than natural corks, leading to increased savings for wine makers. Many of the early cork alternatives attracted great criticism in the wine world, largely because they were extremely difficult to extract from the bottle and almost impossible to re-use to protect an open bottle. Many were also concerned that the use of non-biodegradable plastic instead of natural cork created a larger environmental problem than it solved.
Wine aficionados are often split on whether faux cork can damage the flavor and character of a wine. Some suggest that it may allow faster oxidation, which inhibits the aging potential of wine and can lead it to spoil in a short period of time. Others believe that the chemicals used in the corking process have the potential to add a noticeable chemical aftertaste to wine after a short time in the bottle. Generally, wine makers refrain from using faux cork in wine that is meant to be aged for many years.
In the 21st century, technological developments have led to the creation of synthetic corks that allow less oxidation and are easier to get out of the bottle. They remain considerably less expensive than natural cork products, and many are now made out of recyclable synthetics. Nevertheless, faux cork is still eschewed by many wine traditionalists, who believe that modern technology is no substitute for the original.