Cork it or Screw it?

You’ve been judging that wine bottle in front of you for wearing a screw cap on its head, instead of the traditional cork, haven’t you? Well, you’re not alone. World over, screw caps are considered to be symbols of cheap wine. I’ve heard one person say, “Screw caps are for those who want things easy, and don’t care for the class”, and well, that person couldn’t be further from the truth. While I do agree that screw caps are much, much easier to open and close compared to a traditional cork, but I wouldn’t agree about a bottle with a cork always being better than one with a screw cap. Those days are long, long over.

Wine bottles have had screw caps since the 1950s, it is not a recent development. Originally, it is true, they were used for cheap wine, but things changed once commercial wine makers in New Zealand and Australia began using screw caps widely on all their wines, even the high-end ones.

Renowned wine writer, Dave McIntyre, whose columns appear in The Washington Post says that winemakers generally prefer screw caps for white wines and for red wines that are meant to be drunk young. The screw cap keeps the bottle fully sealed, letting the wine establish its own ecosystem inside the bottle, keeping oxygen from entering the bottle. In contrast, bigger, fuller wines, say a Chardonnay, a Cabarnet could do well with a little oxygen, which would help smoothen out the tannins giving those wines a velvety mouth feel, making the wine more drinkable and approachable. And above all, screw caps ensure there is no epic struggle between you, the corkscrew and the cork, with a possibility of stray cork bits floating in your wine. To top it, screw caps ensure you get to your wine a few seconds faster.

Many people feel uncorking the wine, is a ritual, it is a part of the experience of having the wine. This feeling is frequently experienced in the high-end wine world. It is even part of presentation of the wine at a high-end restaurant, where the diner would often inspect the cork when shown the bottle by the sommelier before and after it is uncorked and served. The cork is an essential part of the drama and romance of popping the cork and having the wine. But sommeliers have also evolved their presentation skills. When presenting a bottle with a screw cap, they tend to focus on the label and other aspects of the wine, avoiding drawing attention to the cap.

Traditional corks could allow the wine to become ‘corked’, meaning the wine would react with a substance called trichloroanisole that is present in the corks that are sanitized with chlorine, and then the molds begin to form, resulting in the wine attaining a musty, moldy flavor which is highly undesirable. On an average about 5 to 10% of cork cap wines on merchant shelves are corked. With screw caps, this risk is completely avoided.

Peter Weber, executive director of the California-based Cork Quality Council, a non-profit established to promote education and improve quality assurance procedures for the cork industry, explains that “Old world wineries typically honor traditional values of the wine being an extension of the land. Finished wines are expected to show depth, texture and complexity. These properties are more closely associated with cork-finished wines.” And when it comes to “new world” wineries (in the Americas, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand), “They often try to express the varietal component of the wine. Their finished products are often focused on displaying the fruit’s varietal characteristics. These properties can be associated with screw-tops.”

In today’s times, a plastic or metal screw cap is no longer an indicator of wine quality anymore. In fact, now a plastic or metal screw cap indicates that an estate was so particular about crafting their wine that they didn’t want to they did not want to introduce the variability of a cork into it.

There’s one more topper that I would like to mention here that offers the benefits of a screw cap and is elegant & classy too – glass. Glass is expensive, would need special techniques to be implemented on the bottling line, but the aesthetic statement it makes, is really strong. Renowned French winemaker –  Gérard Bertrand, uses glass stoppers on his ‘beautiful lifestyle wines’. Glass is elegant, visually clean, audible (there’s something really classy and sexy about the sound of a glass stopper being removed), and has a great presence like an object d’art. What’s more, glass stoppers can be recycled as easily as the glass bottles, and can even be repurposed for home use too.

Gerard Bertrand’s Rose Wine

These days, a wine’s seal-type is no longer a marker of its quality. You’re just going to have to drink more of the good stuff to find out which wines you like best. Because whether it’s cork, screw-cap, or glass—it’s what’s inside the bottle that counts, right?

Penny for your thoughts!