Cork or Screw Cap?

cork_p1160013You’re at your significant other’s place for dinner. The mood is set. The candles lit. The food from the kitchen smells divine, and you know this will be a spectacular dinner. Your date comes around the corner with a bottle of wine, and your excitement upswings. *scratch scratch squeaky* You look confused. The wine is pouring into the class – what happened to the corkscrew, the ever so popular air tight pop the cork makes when forced from its bottle. You frown as you see the screw cap lying on the table.

Now don’t pretend – you so would turn your nose up to a screw cap wine at a romantic dinner. There’s just something more romantic, sensual, personal about a cork. It’s earthy in a way that screw caps can’t even compare. And yalumba_screwcap_bw-717848yet, the debate is raging on in the wine world whether screw caps or corks should be the sealer of choice for winemakers.

Those in favor of screw caps bring up the disappointing reality of cork taint – when a wine is noticeably spoiled due to an infection of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). The culprit of this infection has been attributed to the cork, however it could be anything from the barrel, to how a wine is stored, to the transportation of the wine. A faulty cork, however, could easily lead to TCA in the wine. Noticing it is not necessarily hard as the wine will smell like mold and taste like the socks of a football player. I had this happen to me once when I bought a bottle of wine from a small winemaker in Pennsylvania. I opened it and thought the mold monster attacked.

In any event, the presence of cork taint, which is a huge liability to winemakers as it ruins the wine and gives a bad reputation, has turned many winemakers to the screw cap or alternative stopping methods (try jumping in front of a car, that’ll stop you…I have a sick sense of humor). The screw cap dramatically reduces the presence of TCA, is easier to open as it does not require a cork screw, and makes for easy closing and reopening. Indeed, these are strong arguments. Some proponents of the screw cap also argue that by turning to the screw cap, winemakers are being more environmentally friendly by not using natural resources. Indeed, on the surface the screw cap seems “green.”

Not so, say environmentalists! Those concerned with our natural resources (shouldn’t that be everybody?) say that while cork harvesting affects our natural resources, the process usually does not destroy trees but simply harvests their bark. In about ten years, the cork bark would be ready to be harvested once again. If the cork industry plummets due to wine cork replacements, the land used by cork trees would be used for other means, potentially destroying those lands and the biological landscape therein. Indeed, currently the cork forests allow for “cattle grazing, game hunting and mushroom harvesting,” which would be taken away if the land were to be used for another type of farming. This is a HUGE argument which the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other agencies are using for legislation to restrict the use of wine stoppers to only cork. Interestingly enough, Spain passed a law in 2006 stating all winemakers must use cork for their wine stoppers. While this measure was, I’m sure, as political as it was to benefit environmental agencies, it was, in my opinion, a step in the right direction. Here’s a map that shows how many areas have cork “forests” that are, arguably, a big part of our earth’s ecology:


I am by no means totally against the screw cap for wine bottles. I think it’s a cool innovation that is suitable for wines that should be drunk within a year of harvest. But, I think cork needs to be regularized. Perhaps winemakers should be required to have 75% of their wines using cork stoppers? There could be a compromise that would allow the use of the screw cap without devastating the cork industry.

The honest to God difference between the taste of a screw cap and cork wine is in the physics and chemistry of how wine reacts to oxygen and air components. When sealed with a cap, a wine is completely shut off from air. Doing this limits its aging because it just sits there without interaction. Dynamic wines usually become so overtime due to a miniscule amount of air introduced to the wine through the porous yet compact cork stopper. The cork lets the wine breath, even minimally so, resulting in enhanced flavors that become pronounced over time. Now, we all know that most of the time when you buy a bottle of wine from the store you drink it within a day or so. So, the time it takes for the oxygen to affect the wine is minimal and a fairly mute subject. However, if the wine is sitting on the shelf in the store for quite a while, that wine is actually aging. Just because you don’t store it in your cellar when you buy it doesn’t mean the wine doesn’t age.

OK, I’ve rambled on long enough. My opinion is fairly clear on this issue. Since the wine cork stopper comprises about 70% of the cork market, I think it’s important to continue using cork as the primary stopper substance.


One response to this post.

  1. […] a screw cap *gasp!* I know! Even after my little tirade about keeping the cork tradition (Screw cap or cork?) I break lines and go with the cap. So, consider yourselves […]


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