While corks have long been the traditional way of closing a bottle of wine, since the 1960s, screw caps have steadily grown in popularity. Although once the most popular choice, corks are now seeing a great deal of competition from screw caps. In fact, in New Zealand, 90% of bottles use screw caps instead of corks nowadays. However, despite their increased use, there is still something of a stigma surrounding screw caps, with many wine drinkers believing that wine featuring such a closure is of inferior quality. To determine whether screw caps or corks are best for wine, we weigh up the pros and cons.
Corks have been used to stopper wine bottles since the 1400s, and many wine producers continue using them today due to the tradition. However, there are several other reasons that make corks a great choice for closing wine bottles, although they are definitely not perfect:
Pros of Using Wine Corks
Better for the Environment
Corks are created using the bark from a Cork Oak Tree. As a renewable resource made from a natural material, corks can be considered a more environmentally friendly option. The tree does not have to be cut down to harvest the bark, and it naturally regrows within a few years. The corks are biodegradable too, so can be considered a greener choice. To learn more about how wine corks are made, check out our blog.
The porous material of the cork allows a small amount of oxygen into the bottle, allowing the wine to ‘breathe’. Some believe this to be beneficial to wines that are being left to be aged. Corks are also thought to be particularly good for preserving the wine for a number of years.
Tradition and Appearance
Perhaps the main reason for wine producers choosing a cork over a screw cap is simply down to the look and classical style of the cork. Popping a cork has a far more dramatic effect than simply unscrewing the top of the bottle, and some producers wish to continue the tradition of using corks. In fact, some Old World wine regions do not allow bottles to be closed with anything but a cork to continue the appearance of prestige that corks have become associated with.
Cons of Using Wine Corks
Corks are More Expensive
In comparison to screw caps, corks are typically between two and three times more expensive. This is largely down to the more complex and labour-intensive production process, that includes stripping and preparing the bark, treating the cork and cutting it into the correct shapes. Normally, the extra cost from the cork will be put on the consumer.
Negative Changes to Wine
There are a number of potential issues that can occur to wine stored in bottles closed by cork. For one, the breathability of the cork can also have a negative impact if it leads to the oxidation of the wine. Another major problem is cork taint, which sees the wine react with the chemical compound TCA which can be transferred from the cork. This causes the wine to taste and smell awful, often described as ‘wet dog smell’. Approximately 3-5% of wine is said to be affected by cork taint.
Harder to Use
To remove a cork from a bottle, a corkscrew will be required. However, sometimes opening the bottle proves to be a little difficult. Using the corkscrew incorrectly can cause parts of the cork to break off into the wine, which can make drinking it somewhat unpleasant. Further, once opened, the cork cannot really be put back into the bottle, making it difficult to store an opened bottle properly if you are not planning on drinking it all in one go!
While screw caps are fairly new to the wine world in comparison to corks, there is a growing support for them, with many winemakers and wine drinkers beginning to prefer them to the traditional cork.
Pros of Using a Screw Cap
This firstly means that more of the money you spend on wine is going on the actual wine itself rather than the packaging. Therefore, if you spent the same amount of money on a screw cap bottle as you did on a bottle with a cork, the wine inside the screw cap bottle may be of better quality. Secondly, the affordability of a screw cap allows smaller winemakers and start-up producers to begin the winemaking process with less upfront costs.
Easier to Use
Screw cap wine bottles require no extra tools to open them, eliminating the need for a corkscrew. This can be particularly useful if you want to enjoy a bottle of wine with a picnic, or when staying in a place that is not equipped with a corkscrew. This also means that the risk of any cork falling into the wine is removed. Further, screw caps allow you to reseal the bottle after enjoying a glass, which can be particularly useful for those who only want a glass or two with dinner, rather than the whole bottle at once.
No Risk of Affecting Wine
Unlike the cork, which can cause oxidation and cork taint, amongst other issues, the screw cap cannot cause any of these problems. Many winemakers have discovered that flaws in their wine are reduced when using a screw cap as opposed to a cork. While some argue that the screw cap does not allow a wine to ‘breathe’, thus negatively impacting on the ageing process, this idea has largely been debunked, and it is now thought that ‘breathing’ is not a beneficial aspect of wine ageing.
Cons of Using a Screw Cap
Unlike cork, screw caps are typically made from non-renewable materials. In addition to this, the increase in the use of screw caps is, of course, reducing the need for corks. However, the harvesting of cork has positive environmental impacts, as stripping away the outer layers of bark leads to the tree consuming large quantities of carbon dioxide.
Not as Satisfying
Many wine lovers simply love the pop of the wine cork too much to trade it in for any of the benefits a screw cap may offer. Many winemakers agree and refuse to sacrifice the extra experience of removing the cork, as they believe it adds a sense of prestige that simply cannot be recreated with a screw cap.
Stigma of Screw Caps
Screw caps have long been associated with poorer-quality wines. While this is not the case, and despite the fact that more and more winemakers are choosing to use them, this stigma certainly lives on.
Let us know whether you have more screw cap bottles or cork closures on your wine rack by getting in touch via the comments below! Which do you prefer?