Cork vs Screw Cap: Is One Better Than the Other?

June 18, 2021

Cork vs Screw Cap: Is One Better Than the Other?

There’s a debate in the world of wine around what closures to use. While it may not seem like an interesting debate at first glance, it has led some winemakers to have different closures for the same bottle of wine depending on where they’re exporting them to. Penfolds is one example. Whilst the majority of their wines have screw cap closures, bottles that were being sent to the USA had cork closures because screw caps were associated with cheap supermarket wine.

But this isn’t the case, at least not anymore. In fact, some fantastic wines are housed under screw cap closures - just look at those from Cloudy Bay Vineyards, All Saints Estate, Charles Smith Wines, and Chrismont. So how did this stereotype come to be, and is one better than the other? The short answer: no. The long answer: continue reading to discover for yourself. 

The History of the Cork

If you’ve been a wine enthusiast for a while now, you may remember when corks were still predominantly used to seal wine bottles and the corkscrew was your best friend. The history of the cork actually dates back to the 15th century. It was the only available substance that was malleable enough to close a bottle securely. Plus, it is a renewable resource: made from the bark of cork trees, with one tree providing cork for thousands of bottles. 

For 500 years cork closures had no competition. They were the best at preventing leaks and even help wines age and evolve as miniscule amounts of oxygen can come through the cork. Because of this, cork is the main choice for producers of age worthy wines. However, the love affair with corks began to go sour (pun intended) when wineries discovered the risks of wines becoming corked due to Trichloroanisole (TCA). This resulted in thousands of bottles of wine being ruined. Likewise, if not stored properly, cork can dry out and crumble — this is why wines with cork that are cellared are kept on their sides to keep the cork damp. Finally, corks take a long time to produce and are expensive to produce.

Screw Caps: Making Wine More Accessible

So it’s no wonder that winemakers started looking for alternatives. Commissioned by Peter Wall of Yalumba winery in 1964, a French company called Le Bouchage Mecanique created the screw cap. This was then patented as The Stelvin in the 1970’s. These closures made wine more accessible to the everyday consumer — all you had to do to open a bottle was give it a quick twist and pour it into a glass. They also made it easier to seal bottles for later consumption and reduced wine faults. Screw caps were also cheaper to manufacture. 

Today you’ll find some of the best wines from Australia and from New Zealand opt for the screw cap (interestingly, you’ll find a trend between Old World wines and New World wines and what closure they most often use, with the latter sticking to cork). Yet, despite the benefits that screw caps present to the wine world, there are those that remain steadfast to cork. Certain regions in Spain in fact mandate the use of cork. This resistance can be classified into 3 categories:

  1. Economic: established wine-bottling lines would have to be completely retrofitted to change from cork to screw cap
  2. Practical: cork has been proven to be beneficial in aging wine
  3. Tradition: to put it simply, we like how corks look and the experience of opening a bottle of wine with a corkscrew 

Should You Buy Wines with Cork or Screw Caps?

So to go back to our initial question, is one better than the other? The answer lies in what you’re looking for. If you’re looking at building a collection of wines to keep for several years we recommend a cork closure. But if you’re looking at buying a bottle of wine to drink right away, you’ll find excellent options with screw cap closures. Plus, you won’t need as much space to store your wines as they don’t have to be stored lying down and you don’t have to worry about cork-tainted wine. But if the tradition of cork closures is what you’re after, we won’t stop you. 

Whichever type of closure you lean toward, remember that it really doesn’t matter how the wine bottle is closed. What matters most is that you enjoy the wine in your glass.

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