In the wine world, nothing seems more combative than the age-old dilemma: Cork or Screw? From those who’ll insist only plebs use screwtops, to those who extol its many virtues, who can you trust to help you make the best decision for your wine? Today Louisvale Wines dives deep into the controversy so you don’t have to.
Cork, the classic choice
Cork is, of course, the traditional way to cap off a wine. So much so that we talk about the ‘wine cork’ by default. A cork isn’t just the term for the plug which closes wine, however- it’s also the name of the spongy almost-wooden material most commonly used to make that plug. They’ve been in use in the wine industry since the 1400s, when glass bottles became the preferred way to store wine. It’s soft and malleable enough to force into the neck without damage, while still keeping the wine safe and preventing spills.
Cork is the outer bark of the Cork Oak tree, Quercus Suber.” This tree predominantly grows in Portugal therefore making them the biggest cork suppliers.
Cork has many positives. Not only does this history count in its favour, but it allows wine to breathe (to facilitate ageing well), is 100% biodegradable, and is a renewable resource that’s light on the planet. Plus there’s that satisfying feeling of ‘popping’ the cork off the bottle, of course!
Yet there’s one major downside to a traditional cork- TCA cork taint, or ‘corking’. This happens when chlorine contacts certain fungi during the making of the cork, and then the cork taints the wine with it. It’s harmless to health, but imparts a less-than-compelling ‘wet dog’ smell to the wine, ruining it for most drinkers. At one point, up to 10% of wine stock was lost to cork taint, and today it’s still estimated anything from 3-7% of wines are affected. Gross, right?
This, combined with the general expense of producing legitimate cork products, and the fact cork is fragile and can crumble (not to mention is near impossible to re-cork after opening) led to the invention of the screw cap.
Wait… ’legitimate’ cork?
Yup. Not all corks are created equally. While high-quality wines will often use corks actually made from 100% cork material, most mid-range and low-budget wines with ‘corks’ are created from amalgams and cork ‘dust’, creating a wholly inferior product to real cork.
The screw cap for wine
1964 saw the first wine debut using a screw cap. In the decades since, it may seem like every wine you encounter now uses screw-off metal in place of a traditional cork, and there’s a good reason for this- The 80s saw a sharp decline in the quality of corks being produced, which led to a rash of that TCA cork taint we mentioned above. That’s not the only reason to love screw caps, however. They’re also super-easy to open (and don’t need a corkscrew), affordable to produce (enabling wineries to keep costs lower) and some studies suggest wine may even age better in screw-cap bottles!
They do have a few downsides, though, most notably that the wine does not ‘breathe’ when stored behind a screw cap unless a specific design is used. The caps can be recycled, but don’t degrade naturally, and some people associate them with low-class wine, which is a bit of a stigma to overcome.
How important is ‘breathing’, anyway?
The fact that some oxygen passes into the bottle through cork has been a factor in the ageing of wine throughout history, and some wines designed for long-term ageing do need to ‘breathe’. Yet no two natural corks are created equally- the process of ageing through cork can be pretty haphazard, and some wines will spoil, or age differently to others from that batch, because of it. Modern screw cap technology can allow a more controlled breathing process to facilitate the proper, consistent, ageing of these wines.
In short? There’s no real reason to pick any side in the cork vs screw-cap debate at all! Each offers its own pros and cons, and each has something fantastic to bring to the table. How a wine is sealed is certainly no longer an indication of quality!
As a rule of thumb, a screw cap is more convenient and offers better storage on wines you will drink young and not store, especially wines you drink daily. 100% cork corks offer a luxe feel and can be better for wines you will age, but it depends on the overall quality of the cork and the dependability of the winery- there’s certainly no reason to reject a wine you want to store because of a screw cap if your winery is using smart, modern tech.
So what’s best? Louisvale Winery suggests you choose the style you best prefer, or simply trust high quality wineries who produce what you love to drink- they will know what’s best to ensure you get the most enjoyable experience possible from their lovingly created wine, after all!