Screw Caps vs Corks: What's the Difference?

Posted June 03, 2015

Terry Southard

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It's the age old questions:

Mary Ann or Ginger
WIlliams or DiMaggio
Beatles or the Stones

These are lingering cultural questions that will continue to be debated until the end of time, with each side having enough solid evidence to prove their point.

However, there is another argument that is starting to creep into the world of wine. No, it's not New World vs. Old World or even Sonoma vs. Napa. This question is poised before you even open the bottle...heck, even before you buy the bottle...it is...wait for it:

Cork vs. screw cap

The 's' word, to many purists, is like nails on the proverbial chalkboard; the Voldemort of closures that must never be named in a conversation about “real wine”.

Take a deep breath, cork lovers. This article is not to debunk or even suggest you convert totally. This is just meant to inform and to educate, so by the end you may be able to actually consider buying a wine that is sans cork. Maybe you might even allow yourself to love it.

The primary aim of both screw caps are corks are largely the same: to preserve the wine against oxidation, and to prevent spillage. I think we can all agree that longer lasting wine and stain free carpet are both things we cherish, yes? This is where the similarity stops and the differences begin.

All corked up

One of the biggest issues facing winemakers is the issue of sock-loss due to “cork taint”. If you’ve ever uncorked a bottle to find it smelling like cardboard or wet dog, you already know the joys of 2,4,6 Trichloroanisole, or TCA for short. TCA is a naturally occurring chemical that can be detected by the human olfactory system in concentrations as small as four parts per trillion, and basically ruins a bottle of wine by stripping it of all the good fruit flavors, and replacing them with musty unpleasantness. The big problem is that, despite tons of innovation on behalf of cork manufacturers, TCA is just a natural risk that comes with the territory. The only 100% surefire way to prevent corkage is to stop using corks…

Enter: screw caps

Screw caps (officially known as Stelvin Closures) have been around for the better part of half a century, but it hasn't been until the last ten years or so that countries like New Zealand and Australia have started to use the closure in everyday wine bottling. The screw cap is a firm seal on the wine and is ideal for wines that are meant to be drunk young; New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for instance.

The argument for

For the consumer, who doesn't want to take the time to take the cork out or deal with the frustration of floating bits of cork in the favorite vino after a botched opening attempted, this is also ideal. It's a two-second process and, hey, it makes it easy when you are taking it out of the house. No fiddling with that corkscrew. It's quick, easy, and the option to re-cap the wine means your whites will last longer.

The argument against

So, why the resistance? For one, some winemakers indicate that while the screw cap is a solid seal, it doesn't help when it comes to wines that need aging. Reds that need that extra time will benefit from the slow gas-exchange that comes from a cork closure. Cork is a semi-permeable seal and helps in getting your fabulous Cab to that perfect aging and really helps soften and smoothen out those tougher tannic wines, making it more palatable to the consumer.

In regards to opening the bottle, many just see the popping of the cork as an age old tradition...one that is ingrained in our culture...especially in the fine dining establishments. The sommelier or server's presentation, opening, and presenting of the cork, are all part of the experience - a symbolism to be explored, before even clinking the glasses. Many liken this to preferring the turning of actual pages instead of swiping their favorite book on a Kindle.

So what’s the verdict?

So, when all’s said and done, which way should you go? Bottom line: do you love the taste of the wine? Do you enjoy it's texture, it's nose, it's palate? Does it go great with that chicken or steak dish? Because in the end, whether you are spending two seconds on unscrewing a bottle, or taking a minute to uncork it, it’s all about the juice. If the wine is to your liking, isn't that what it's all about?

Oh...and for those who are curious in what I think?

Mary-Ann, DiMaggio & The Beatles

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Terry has spent close to 30 years in the customer service and retail fields. When not enjoying great wine or food, he stays active in his local church. 
He is also an avid hiker, voracious reader of anything on the American Revolution, and a diehard follower of the Fab Four.

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