The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

March 8, 2012

Can’t Tell Whether a Wine Bottle Has a Plastic Cork or Real Cork? There’s an App for That!

One of the most frequent requests I get is for a list of wines with natural cork stoppers because most of the time it’s impossible to see what kind of cork a bottle has without opening it up.  When I first started this project, I began keeping a list of wines and what kinds of closures they had, but I quickly realized how futile that exercise was.  There are so many brands of wine, using different closures for different varietals, and sometimes changing their packaging with new bottlings.

So I was beyond excited when I received an email pitch this week about a new website and app — okay, not actually an app but a mobile site you can access via any smartphone — called CorkWatch that lets shoppers look up specific wines to find out what kind of stopper they have.


There are several ways to search.  If you know what kind of wine you want to drink, use the “Wine Type” drop down menu to choose among varietals and styles of wine.  If you are standing in the grocery aisle and want to know if a particular wine has a natural cork, use the “Wine Brand” drop down to select the brand as well.  I’m not really sure what the search box at the top is for.  I input several different types of wine in the box and got no results.  But for me, the two drop down menus are enough to get the information I need.

The database is populated with over 2,000 wines right now, mostly from the bigger wineries.  But the beauty of this site is that users can also add their own finds to the database, since many smaller wineries are not yet listed.  I quickly added some wines from San Francisco’s Sutton Cellars (which I wrote about a few weeks ago).  This program will really only work if users contribute information to make the database really useful.

The site  is a project of the Cork Quality Council and ReCORK, a wine cork recycling program.  I think it’s really smart of the cork industry to enlist wine drinkers in helping promote their product in this way.  Maybe if  the app is successful, wine companies will have proof that their customers want real cork and not plastic or plastic-lined screw caps, which often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Why is Cork Sustainable?

I have written about why natural cork is preferable to plastic or screw caps before.  Many people are under the assumption that cork trees must be cut down to make cork products, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Cork is the bark of the cork oak, which is harvested manually and grows back to produce new cork for generation after generation.  The cork industry supports the existence of cork forests, which are home to several endangered species, and which could otherwise be cut down to make way for less sustainable products if the cork market did not exist.  I think anything that promotes the existence of old growth forests is a good thing.

Is Cork Better for Wine?

The 100% Cork initiative has posted several Youtube videos of vintners explaining why they prefer natural corks for their wines over plastic or screw caps.  Here is one:

Try it and give your feedback

I spoke with CorkWatch representative Lance Ignon a few days ago, who assured me that the database will be kept up to date and that they are currently working on Version 2.0 to make the site even more useful. Why not try it out and give them your feedback? One thing I asked for is the ability to change my password from the random auto-generated password. (A password is only required for adding information to the database but not for simply looking things up.) If you try out the site and have suggestions about how it could be better, please leave a comment.

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How do I tell them apart without an app? I just have corks, don’t know if they were ever even near a wine bottle, and I just wanna know if they’re real or plastshit. I held them near a flame, they went up quickly without melting at all, and the smoke didn’t smell like plastic smoke, but I don’t know how accurate my test was.


I just discovered this thread, so haven’t yet looked for Corkwatch, however I recently purchased the Coravin Wine System that requires a bottle to have a real cork. Have bought several less expensive bottles of wine that, because I’m single & don’t finish a bottle that quickly, I wanted to Coravin (using it as a verb ?) only to discover the cork was fake or man-made (plastic?) leaving a hole that makes use of my Coravin fruitless.


I am an avid consumer of fine wine, however, I’ve noticed that some high end wineries are now starting to use the synthetic based corks (well, they work like corks but aren’t actually cork). I have noticed that anytime I get a wine that has one of these syn-corks even if the wine is perfectly sealed, no matter how much or little I consume of it, I get violently ill. I think something gets imparted by the synthetic cork into the wine itself and needs to be looked at by health and food safety experts. I am firm believer that… Read more »

Margaret E Robinson

for this wine-loving californian, i’ll stick with cork. the occasional off bottle can be – and has been – used for cooking, quite successfully, too.


Un’applicazione che consente di sapere se una bottiglia di vino tappata con il sughero. Leggete qui!

New App Allows Consumers to Identify Wines with Natural Cork Closures

Peter Harrison

Be sensible…….switch to Stelvin closures [ screw tops] of aluminium, now widely used across most prices ranges. If it is a plastic cork – buy a better wine!

My Plastic-free Life

Peter, screw caps are lined with BPA. Cork is much more sustainable. The industry helps preserve old growth cork oak forests. The corks are biodegradable. And there’s even a company that will collect and recycle them.

Peter Harrison

So are the insides of many steel cans………; cork MAY be sustainable, but the industry is voting with its nouse to change because they are sick of the poor performance of cork, even real cork in many wines of the new world. Australia, California, Argentina, Chile, NZ – most have switched out of cork to Stelvin closures because they LAST. even for top quality long life reds.

My Plastic-free Life

Right Peter Harrison, which is why I don’t eat or drink anything out of cans anymore. For me, if a less toxic, more sustainable alternative exists, I will choose it. And with this database, consumers can vote with their wallets and let winemakers know they want real cork instead of synthetics. And by the way, check out this winemaker who swears by natural cork:

Shannon Adolph

Or screw tops?

My Plastic-free Life

The site will tell you if it’s real cork, plastic, or screw cap. But screw caps are problematic because they have BPA underneath.

Ferris Duvall

Yes! What’s even worse is Fetzer The Earth Friendly Winery using plastic corks. What a joke.

Stella Richardson

I can’t find it :-( Do you know if it’s just on the App market or android.. or would it be because I’m in the UK…?

My Plastic-free Life

Hi Stella Richardson. It’s not a real app but a mobile site that you access through your browser. They are working on a true app, but right now the mobile site works great.

Mary Clare Hunt

I’ll try it out. Thanks.


Someone needs to add 2 Buck Chuck to the list of wines.



oh i am so sharing this with all the wine lovers i know.



I can’t believe (but I totally should have known) there’s an app for that! I’m so telling my bf (who’s also my sommelier ^^)!
We once camped under a cork tree and my little sister later told us she had believed somebody had put a wine cork in the ground and it had sprouted… so for years she tried to ‘sprout’ wine corks in our plant pots… nothing happened, sadly ;o)

have a great week!


Now we need an app for chocolate! I get so frustrated when I get home with a nice chocolate bar, only to find that the paper or foil wrapper is actually plastic, or there’s an inner plastic wrapper.

Betsy (Eco-novice)

Not a drinker myself, but I really sympathize with wanting to know what the heck your food and beverage comes packaged in!


I am so happy to know where to send my corks, but they want 1650 of them, so will take some time!! Took about 150 water bottles I found over time to the recycler to day. I so wish plastic bottles to sell water in would be outlawed.


Harvesting cork in Sardinia

Acc/to Wiki, the tree lives 250 years and can be harvested every 12 years. All done by hand in So. Europe & No. Africa.


and the cork forests are so pretty too ,,,,

Pat Clancy

Thank you, Beth. This will help a lot, even for a non-smart-phone person like me. I can look up on the computer and take notes. I shop for wine at Trader Joe’s, so I will probably be adding my favorites to this list. I’m also going to look into ReCork to see how they recycle and how to get the corks to them. I started collecting last year but then didn’t really find a craft project I wanted to make from them. A local organization does collect them along with many other items for reuse and recycling.