Corks vs Screw Caps
It is still surprising just how many people turn their nose up at screw capped bottles in the corks vs screw caps debate. There is a misnomer that the wine underneath a screw cap must be inferior. A misguided belief originally fueled by Old World wine countries fearing the threat of up-and-coming wine nations such as Australia and the USA who began using screw caps instead of corks.
The great controversial corks vs screw caps debate rages on and no one really is claiming victory. We believe the important point in this prickly dispute is that screw caps are proving every bit as good as, if not better than, corks for sealing wine. In short, don’t judge a wine by it’s seal.
Much ado about nothing?
We tend to think so. Screw caps have actually been around since the 1950s but the wine industry has just been slow in adopting them as the default bottle closure. Australia and New Zealand paved the way for screw caps in the 1990s and the vast majority of New World wines caught on while the traditional wine powerhouse countries of France, Italy, and Spain rebuffed the down under novices and their new-fangled technology. Thus, in part, giving birth to the myth that screw caps denote a wine that is cheap and of poor quality.
So which is better?
The only thing that may be standing in the screw cap’s way is a combination of conventional pride and misinformation. In truth, it caught up with the cork a long time ago. The screw cap continues to prove as practical, and in many ways, more efficient than the age-old seal. Is either seal considered a fail safe? No, of course not. A screw cap improperly sealed at the onset will cause oxidization but if you’re transporting wine to an outing or a festival – that screw capped bottle is pretty handy. Cork comes with its own problems. Research shows that 3 – 8% of wines on the market suffer from cork-taint (‘corked’ wine) characterised by a musty, cardboard smell. On the flip side, wine traditionalists will argue (and a recent study by an Oxford Professor has shown) that just hearing the pop of the cork affects your experience and makes the wine taste better.
There will remain ongoing studies into whether high-quality cork seals are better than screw caps for wines with great aging potential. Some scientists argue that the slightly porous nature of cork allows wine to age better than in the completely anaerobic environment of a bottle sealed with a cap. Research also shows that wine preserves in good condition for 30 years under screw caps.
What about plastic corks?
We can’t really talk about this subject in full unless we address this little newcomer to the party — synthetic (plastic) corks created to look like natural corks. Synthetic corks arose from the laundry list of issues in the screw cap vs cork conundrum. A quality synthetic cork seal can be as effective as a natural cork seal. However, not unlike the screw caps, there are inherent problems. A cheaply made product will result in a lack of a perfect seal and in some instances a chemical, plastic-like smell. If you have heard all sides and yet remain steadfast in the natural cork camp, visit CORKwatch to see if your vintage has a natural vs synthetic cork.
So have we popped our last (natural) cork?
Some say that cork will eventually phase out. But from our vantage point (based on much theoretical as well as, shall we say, practical research), we have confidence that corks are here to stay. The constant improvement in the quality of cork, in combination with artificial closures’ prevailing issues, as well as consumer perception, all lead to wineries sticking with cork over the alternatives. Recent studies estimate that less than 70% of all wine bottles today are sealed with natural corks. And, despite some of its shortcomings, we still love it. There’s a sense of occasion in the time-honoured tradition of popping a cork, something you may not get from simply twisting a cap. And aesthetically speaking, they’re hard to top (pun intended). However, what really matters in the end is the liquid in the bottle. Whether it’s under a cork (natural or plastic) or a screw cap; it is the quality that counts every single time.
You can store screw cap bottles upright but if you’re storing wines with a cork for a decent length of time, then arrange the bottles on their sides so the wine stays in contact with the cork. This allows oxygen in to prevent shrinking and drying of the cork.
Broken cork? It happens to the best of us. First, try to avoid this altogether by using a good wine opener — then keep calm and carry on. Go at it again, but try to screw into cork at an angle this time, avoiding the first hole and then pull vertically. If the situation calls for more desperate measures, gently screw a wood screw into cork until you’ve reached the bottom and pull up. Always avoid cork falling into the bottle.
DID YOU KNOW?
Cork comes from the bark of the Cork Oak (Quercus suber). The world’s largest manufacturer of cork is Portugal which has 1/3 of the world’s Cork Oak plantations.
Cloth or leather was used as a wine seal by the Greeks and Romans. Glass was used as a seal in the 1550s but it proved to be expensive and time consuming — each stopper had to be custom made. By the 1600s, cork was the seal of choice. It was not until the 1700s that wine bottles and corks were finally uniform enough for taverns to utilize the corkscrew.