Time after time we get customers in who will only buy wine that is sealed with cork; something I can be guilty of myself. Sometimes a cork, especially with a wax seal, can add to the wine drinking experience - the same cannot necessarily be said for a screw-cap! But what are the pros and cons of each method and which is better?
Corks are interesting. They come from a tree that takes a long time to grow. They rot when they get damp and in Angus’ case, they break whenever he tries to open something! So why do we use it? The key is in the unique qualities of the Cork itself; it’s both soft and porous, it’s natural and in most cases it doesn't affect the flavour of the wine. These are all desirable qualities in their own ways but the most interesting of them is that cork's porosity. A well made cork will let a tiny amount of air in over a long period of time without letting wine out. This process is a key factor in ageing wine; the slow aeration helps to reduce acidity and can change the flavours and the profiles of the wine drastically, both for the good and bad! There are also instances of cork failures which result in the famous but relatively rare “corked” wine, or “cork taint” which is a result of a fungus that grows within the cork itself. There are a multitude of other faults found in wine that are often, yet incorrectly called “corked”. A corked wine has a very particular flavour often described as tasting like damp or rotten cardboard, and can vary in its potency.
Screw-caps are neither soft nor porous. In fact, a well applied screw-cap should be pretty much airtight. This means that whilst a cork can be a bit temperamental a screw-cap is much more consistent. They will keep wine fresher for longer, are easier for bottling, more cost effective and potentially more convenient for the end user. Which is why the more mass produced “quaffing” wines are screw-caps and why screw-caps are often thought as inferior to cork. But let’s be clear, screw-caps are not an indication of quality, in fact more and more top wineries are bottling their best wines with screw-caps, especially in the New World and for good reason. Screw-caps are great at keeping in freshness, whether that’s for reds or whites, if a winemaker wants to keep his wine youthful and constant for his customers screw-caps are the perfect choice. It’s not that the wines won’t age, it’s just a much slower process and with different results.
The truth is both screw-caps and corks have a place in the world of wine, and moreover neither can be heralded as “the best”. Screw-caps are better for wines that are intended to be drunk straight off the shelf and corks are better for wines intended to mellow and change overtime. Ultimately the closure method is dictated by the winemaker intention for their wines. In some cases it’s to save cost or to be more convenient but in others it’s to preserve or even change the wine over time. Neither are wrong and again its personal preference, but gun to my head I’d have to admit that I’ll always find that ‘sqeeeak-pop’ a little more satisfying.