Wine Myths: Is cork better than screwcap?
Wednesday 27 April 2022
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The prestigious cork industry has been crafting ideal wine bottle closures in Portugal for hundreds of years, and sealing bottles all around the Mediterranean for thousands (see Jacopo Mazzeo’s detailed study on this fascinating 2500 year old industry for Glug back in March 2022).
Made from the bark of the cork oak tree, corks have long been prized for their ability to both seal wine against unwanted infection, and to allow the slow, steady introduction of oxygen to wine over long periods of time. The natural porosity of a well-made cork is a special thing, and while there are decent synthetic and composite imitations in wide circulation these days, many winemakers and experts maintain that you can’t beat it for form and function.
However — it’s not exactly more reliable than the modest screwtop. While cork can boast a range of positive attributes because of its natural origins, it can also cause real problems due to the same thing. Natural products aren’t totally replicable. Faults from cork closures can include oxidation and “corked” wine — the introduction of the chemical TCA to wine via herbicides used to eradicate certain fungi in the cork oak forests. Basically, it makes your wine smell like damp cellars and wet dogs. (It’s worth noting that you can also get TCA in wine via other means, albeit in much rarer cases. Including screwcaps.)
Screwcap wines have been associated with cheaper bulk wines for decades, and there’s a good reason for this. It’s around two to three-times cheaper to buy screwcaps than it is to source natural cork. While screwcaps will, for obvious reasons, not allow air to reach the wine and therefore won’t help along any beneficial oxidation over years in the cellar, they also won’t allow wine to spoil in the same way. Screwcaps can keep wine fresh and crisp for longer — making them an ideal closure choice for wines that don’t need a lot of ageing to be enjoyed at their best.
It all depends on the wine and what you’re planning to do with it. If you’ve bought a good value red and you’re planning to drink it as soon as you get home, it matters not how it’s closed, only if you have the tool to get into it quick enough. Some would say the screwcap holds the advantage here. Ready to go when you are.
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