Question from Josh: I overheard a server in a wine bar say that screw caps are better than corks. Is that really true?Reply: Hi, Josh. Thanks for writing. Things have changed so rapidly in the world of wine closures that it’s hard for anyone to keep up! It used to be so simple. Quality wines were finished with natural cork. Any other sort of seal was meant for the cheap stuff. I’m afraid the best short answer to your question is “I’m not sure.” The thing is, it depends upon the situation. For wines meant for early drinking, which is most of the world’s wine, I think it’s safe to say that the screw cap is the best choice. That is, in terms of function. There’s no getting away from the emotional reaction. Surveys show that people are more accepting of screw caps than they used to be, but there are still a lot of folks who just don’t like them. I have to admit that the crack of the screwcap coming off can’t compete with the subtle “pop” of the cork coming out of the bottle when it comes to romance. But functionally, they keep the wine fresher longer that a traditional cork. And, that applies to almost all white and rosé wine and even a lot of reds. That’s great news because with a screw cap there’s zero risk of cork taint – you know – that musty, moldy smell that reminds you of your grandmother’s basement. They’re also great when you’re on a picnic and forgot you corkscrew! For wines that are meant for bottle aging – and these are mainly high quality, full-bodied reds and high-end dessert wines – the jury is still out. We’re not sure what to expect over the long term. The screw cap does such a great job of protecting the wine from oxidation, that there’s a question about whether it will allow the wine to evolve in the bottle over the long term the way it does under a natural cork. There are also enologists that say that the wine’s at risk for becoming reduced, the opposite of oxidized, which makes it smell like burnt rubber. I must say the closure industry has been very responsive to those concerns. These days, wineries can purchase screw caps with a special liner that’s supposed to mimic the breathability of cork (Stelvin Lux is the best known one). Of course, the only wines with a screw cap that have been around for twenty or thirty+ years are jug wines. We just don’t have enough information to say that screw caps are the best across the board.
As for plastics, they don’t have a good track record beyond two years. But, they keep improving them. A cork-broker friend told me his company has a four-year synthetic cork. I confess to a prejudice against them. Environmentally, they’re the pits, many of them are hard to get out and I don’t like the way they feel.
Incidentally, the cork growers claim that natural cork is far and away the best option environmentally. And, finally, they’re addressing the issue of cork taint in a serious way in terms of quality control and purging methods.
I hope that helps. Long post – forgive me – I drank a lot of coffee this morning!
For a free email subscription go to home page, right column