Cork versus screwcap: which is better?

Cork versus screwcap: which is better?

It’s tempting to assume that truly great wines - the ones where people judge you for how you hold and swirl your glass when you order them - are the domain of corks. Corks seem fancy. Uniquely wine-ly. Serious. Traditionalist. There’s a flourish of pomp and ceremony involved in uncorking a wine, after all.


But - what is the difference between corks and screw caps, really? Aside from aesthetic, what’s the point? And can we really judge a bottle by its closure: are screwcap-topped wines of inferior quality?


First of all, it’s important to recognise that corks do actually have a practical purpose. Seen as elitist and traditionalist for a reason, they are used to purposefully let a small amount of air into the bottle. This generally means that wines designed to age will benefit from a cork, as the tiny bit of air inside the bottle helps smooth out the tannins (the textural elements of wine): the extra air oxidises these tannins, so the wine become less harsh and more refined over time. By contrast, a screw-top wine will allow no air into the bottle, not permitting this molecular-level change that happens with natural cork.


It seems then, that cork would be a great indicator of a decent wine that’s good enough to throw in the cellar. But wait! That’s not where this story ends. Winemakers are increasingly opting for screw-topped wines for even high-end, super premium drops, for a number of other reasons:

  1. Cork is a natural product, coming from (believe it or not!), the cork tree. As global population and therefore worldwide wine production ramps up, cork tree bark is in shorter supply than ever - making it far more costly now than it has been in the past.
  2. Metal screw caps solve the ‘cork taint’ issue that ruins up to 5% of wines closed with a natural cork. It’s worthwhile noting that batch of bad corks can have an especially severe financial impact on wineries producing 10,000 cases or less per year.
  3. They are easier to open and close! Although some would argue it ruins the panache of opening a wine with a corkscrew, we can’t really deny that it does make enjoying a bottle of wine much more convenient. Those who have fiddled with a problematic corkscrew, or had those floaty bits of cork fall in and need to filter the whole lot will know what we’re talking about.

Screw caps for wine bottles have been around since the late 1950s, but they were first used for value-oriented jugs of wine. Ick. This all started to change about fifteen years ago however, when winemakers in Australia and New Zealand started using them much more widely for all different kinds of wine, from drink-now ‘everyday’ bottles, to some higher-end, pricier wines. In fact, 90% of New Zealand wineries and 70% of Australian wineries are now bottling using twist-off caps, or ‘twisties’ - and if you’ve popped a wine open lately, you’d be in the minority, as the rest of us are cracking a twist-top!


We admit it, there is a certain charm to the ceremony of opening a bottle of wine using a corkscrew… and with truly great (expensive!) wines destined for the cellar, natural corks will always have their place. As they should. We do however love the convenience and reliability of the humble screwcap, especially for summer picnics and barbecues.


Now that’s all said and done, when it comes to wine, we’re not that fussy. It’s about inner beauty when you think about it… after all, it really is what’s inside a bottle that counts.


Cheers!




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