Corks vs Screw Caps

Corks vs Screw Caps

Have you ever wondered when looking at wine bottles why some use corks and others use screw caps? While you may associate screw caps with lower-quality wine, the stopper can tell you a lot about the wine inside the bottle. It can either imply longevity, quality, culture, or history.

Let’s start with corks. The most widely used wine closure, corks have been being used since the 18th century. The pros to corks are that cork is a renewable resource. It derives from the cork tree, which primarily grows in Portugal and Spain and is strictly protected. These trees regenerate their outer layer of bark allowing a harvest to occur once every decade. They have a lifespan of about 200 years and a single tree provides cork for thousands of bottles. Cork expands inside the bottleneck, sealing liquid in and keeping oxygen out. It does have small pores, though, which allow a small amount of air to interact with your wine. This can change the aroma or flavor over time so you might find you are unable to store corked bottles for very long after they have been opened. Corks are also susceptible to taint. A chemical compound, TCA, affects cork and is caused when chlorine makes contact with certain fungi during processing. This is harmless to us, but the compound can transfer to the wine resulting in aromas of wet cardboard or wet dog, effectively ruining your bottle of wine.

Synthetic corks are also widely found as wine closures. These are made from petroleum-based plastic or plant-based material. They are not prone to taint and they provide predictable oxygen transfer rates and a tight seal. They don’t degrade or dry out so they won’t break apart, leaving crumbs in your wine. They do, however, have negative environmental impacts. They are not sustainable or biodegradable. They can be recycled depending on the material they are made of, and knowing if it is recyclable depends on if the producer has included either the materials used or the recycling symbol on the cork. Otherwise, it can be a guessing game and therefore, usually, these corks just get thrown in the trash. They are very difficult to open and reseal as they are typically a hard material and don’t provide any flexibility.

Screw caps are nearly impervious to taint. There is also less oxygen able to make contact with the wine, meaning winemakers could, in theory, reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide used as an antioxidant before bottling. Since these caps create a relatively oxygen-free environment for wine, they are believed to last a lot longer. The benefits here are determined more by the type of wine you enjoy and whether or not that wine benefits from aging. It is said that with the limited oxygen contact, wines with a screw cap won’t age at all, while others say screw cap wines age, just more slowly. Screw caps are typically far easier to open as there is no need for a corkscrew. These also have negative environmental impacts, though. Since they are made from aluminum, the process of obtaining this material impacts the air and water and generates millions of tons of waste, annually.

So, while there are many options for wine closures, consider your needs and what types of wine you like, and how long you want to store these bottles. Consider the pros and cons here and if any of them resonate with you, you can use them as a guide to choosing what brands and bottles you wish to purchase.

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