Nine years ago (!), I wrote an article on screw caps vs. cork. In light of New Zealand’s incredible push for screw caps, I thought it might be time to revisit the topic and see what new information I could find. Boy, did I find a lot of new information.
The Romance of Cork
There’s nothing better than hearing the sound of a cork popping out of a wine bottle. The anticipation. The romance. The special occasion.
But what if you’re on a picnic, and you forgot your corkscrew? Do you have to do what that one famous guy did, using your shoe against a tree to try to dislodge the cork? Hopefully not. Hopefully, you brought a bottle of wine with a screw cap.
New Zealand’s Push for Screw Caps
Why is New Zealand so committed to screw caps? Aren’t they bad for the environment? Aren’t they associated with cheap wine? Can an age-worthy wine age as well with a screw cap?
According to WineAnorak, “With its Screwcap Initiative,…New Zealand is now leading the way in advocating the widespread use of screwcaps as an alternative to corks. It could well be that in 30 years time, people will… consider that New Zealand’s greatest contribution to the world of wine is not its remarkable Sauvignon Blancs,…but instead the way it led the wine world to shift from variable, taint-prone corks to embrace screwcaps.”
In reading through the WineAnorak article, it looks like New Zealand’s main reasons for adopting screw caps are:
- Corked wine – when wine is tainted from TCA, a chemical compound that comes from the cork and causes the wine to have an unpleasant odor and taste
- Wide variation in oxygen transfer characteristics of cork, which can lead to uneven aging
- The expense of cork
But What About the Bad Sides of Screw Caps?
One of the biggest concerns about screw caps is that they don’t work well for age-worthy wines. But according to Wine Folly, that’s no longer the case. “The longtime argument that corks are better because they breathe has been dispelled as ‘breath’ is now emulated in both screw caps and cork alternatives. Today you can buy screw caps with calculated levels of ‘oxygen ingress’ overtime.”
Another downside of screw caps is that they aren’t as environmentally friendly as corks. While it’s true that they don’t come from a natural resource, they’re almost always recyclable because they are made from metal.
The Final weakness that screw caps face is their reputation. People assume screw-capped wine is poor quality. But when you consider the number of amazing New Zealand and Australian wines that are screw capped, you need to think again.
Other Upsides of Screw Caps
Screw-capped wine is much easier to transport and doesn’t require a corkscrew, which is all-too-often easy to forget.
Final Words from Wine Expert Jancis Robinson
Jancis Robinson had a great writeup that I wanted to end my article with.
“I too love the ‘pop’ sound of a cork being pulled (and, especially, the popping of a champagne cork which, restaurateurs report, can have an instant effect on other diners), and I love the idea that cork is an ecologically sound material with a long tradition. But I feel even more passionately about how difficult some corks are to extract (especially from Italy’s narrow bottlenecks), how they can eventually crumble and fatally let in air, and how frequently they are affected by ‘cork taint’ and result in completely spoilt ‘corked’ wines…Screwcaps provide the perfect seal, with different types of liner allowing differing levels of oxygen transfer…It seems as though screwcaps…are much more effective than other stoppers at retaining the natural fruitiness of wine, so seem particularly suitable for aromatic wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts about screw caps vs. cork. Cheers!
Hmmm . . . seems to me that people who have trouble with their corks simply aren’t drinking their wine soon enough. Corks are amazing for the environment, providing habitat for wildlife and preserving wilderness, as they typically thrive in areas that are mountainous (hilly, perhaps), and rocky. If corks were really that bad for wine, I doubt they would have survived these centuries.
I’ll never be a proponent of screw caps. Although they don’t “bother” me, IMO corks are infinitely superior. Plus they make awesome hobby projects when you’re through with them (cork wreaths, wine charms, etc.), and you can put the ones not coated in plastic in your compost. Win-win-win!
I love corks too. I love the exciting, romantic nice of the cork’s popping sound. But I also love the idea of not having to remember a corkscrew at a picnic. What I’ve hated about screw-cap wines is the low quality. But it looks like a lot of wineries are getting on the screw-cap bandwagon. So I think we’ll start to see much higher quality wines with screw caps.