Wine-Closures-Corks-Vs-ScrewcapsChoosing Screwcaps or Cork to Close Wine:

A decade ago there was virtually no conversation about the issues about how to close a bottle of wine.  Cork was in, everything else was sitting on the prolifery and didn’t have any real significant amount of market share.  Then, an Australian study found that about 3% of all wine bottles that used natural cork closures, were being spoiled by the cork.  For Australian vintners, most of which only expect a consumer to age their wine 5-10 years on the high end, that was simply too big a number.  These days, almost every bottle in Australia is closed via screw cap and more American wineries are following suit seemingly by the day.  Here’s why some wineries are making that change and of course, here’s why even more wineries think cork is still the only way to go.

In Favor and Against Screw Caps:

Let’s face it, if you’re making a $10 wine that is being sold in drug stores and cheaply by the glass in restaurants, then a screw cap makes a ton of sense.  It opens incredibly quickly and without any additional purchases by the consumers you are trying to target.  I remember the day that my wife and I moved into our home, we certainly were looking for a screw cap at the grocery store that evening, after all, our corkscrew was packed in a box somewhere in our new garage!  Most of the research into wine closures shows that for wine that is likely to be held for up to 10 years, a screw cap might be the best choice.  One thing that screw caps don’t allow for that is up for debate, wine does not breath in the same way that it does through cork, so your wine in essence, does not age in screw caps.  On the environmental side of things, things are not quite as rosy, screw caps can be recycled, but consumers do not typically follow through doing so, they are less environmentally efficient than is cork.

In Favor and Against Cork:

If you want to keep wine for at least a few decades, then cork is the only choice.  Part of what makes Bordeaux, Burgundy and most of Napa Valley so interesting is that the wine can age for so long.  Many wine lovers and writers for that matter will tell you that keeping a $5 bottle of Burgundy for up to 40 years leads to the absolute best wine you can imagine.  Cork is also a favorite of the environmental movement because it is completely sustainable.  Made from trees, cork is cut off the trunk of trees, without harming the tree.  Most of the major cork forests, like the ones most commonly associated with the wine industry like those in Portugal, are both 100% sustainable as well as being organically grown. The major issues with using cork comes down to a single fact, some percentage of wine is ruined by fumes that are naturally omitted by cork.  Sure, some percentage of wine drinkers actually prefer wine that has cork taint, but can an industry be excited about a closure that probably ruins about 1% of what they produce?

Mark Aselstine is the owner of Uncorked Ventures, a wine club based just outside of San Francisco.  His many trips to Napa Valley and Sonoma have shown that the war over wine closures, is just beginning as both sides are beginning to heavily market themselves to wineries and consumers across the price spectrum.