Cork vs Screwtop: Which One is Really Better?

 

Corks have been the “go-to” wine closure since the 1400s. It is natural, pliable, renewable and has been proven to aid long-term aging.

However since the New Zealand Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative was launched in early 2001, more and more winemakers are opting to use the screw cap closure over the more traditional cork.

There are many reasons for this. First is the cost (cork costs 2 to 3 times more than screw caps), second is the risk of TCA (2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole) and third is the variable quality found in natural cork sources.

Still, there is a reason why the more traditional wine collector tends to turn up his nose at the thought of ageing wine under the much maligned screw cap top. Studies show that the way wine “breathes” under cork ensures that the wine ages better in the long run. It is also argued that screw top caps do not allow enough air inside the bottle thus making it impossible for the wine to breathe and mellow as the years go by.

When you visit the wine aisle of your local grocer, it is highly likely that you will see more wines from Australia and New Zealand with screw top caps or cork alternatives (fake corks made from plastic or other polymers). These cork alternatives are also beginning to take up a larger share of the market for the simple reason that they are more affordable, TCA free and are much easier to open.

Just based on everything that has been said in the cork vs screw cap top debate, it is almost easy to see where one closure works better than the other. Fresh, young, zippy, meant to be drunk now wines are usually the ones found in screw cap top bottles. These wines are not meant to be kept in some dark cellar to be drunk at your 50th wedding anniversary. But this is also not to say that only cheap wines are found with screwcap closures. Excellent wines from New Zealand and Australia with cork alternative closures have put an end to that stereotype.

So are we now saying that ONLY long lived wines are better off with cork closures? Not necessarily. While first growth Bordeaux and Burgundy producers are not yet chucking out their natural corks for screw caps or cork alternatives, it is not an unlikely scenario. As more and more producers are turning to cork alternatives, more tastings of wines aged in these tops are being conducted and the results are very encouraging. Yes, it has been found that screw cap topped wines evolve at a much slower rate but they do age even in these conditions. As science and research become more invested in the development of these cork alternatives, it is possible that one day you will be able to open an expensive bottle of wine with a twist of your wrist.

I think what would be more accurate to say is that there really is no battle here. It is not an either/or situation. The variability in the quality of wine closures exist not just in corks but also in screwcap tops and cork alternatives. It is also important to acknowledge the fact that the ability of wine to age and drink well are not only dependent on the closure used but also on the storage conditions they are in.

For example, wines with cork tops, if stored vertically, will eventually become oxidized. It is important to note that the cork shrivels up without contact with liquid and allows air into the bottle in massive quantities over a short period of time. So, make sure your cork sealed bottles are stored on their sides at all times.

It is also good to remember that we buy wines because of what’s in the bottle and not what’s on top. Buying good quality wine, regardless of the type of closure, and storing it in ideal conditions guarantees you an excellent drinking experience.

One way to ensure that your wines are kept in the most ideal conditions is to turn them over to the care of experts.  In Asia, fine wine collectors have countless options and one of them is Singapore Wine Vault (SGWV). In SGWV, bottles are kept in climate controlled, insulated, secure and state of the art cellars. Wines are also insured to guarantee full replacement value for any damage or loss in the event of unfortunate incidents (e.g. fire). With all these worries taken care of, you can sit back, relax and wait until you are ready to enjoy that perfect bottle at the perfect time.