Sealing the Wine: Corks vs Screwcap

photo by Sam Howzit via flickr
photo by Sam Howzit via flickr

I get asked a lot in the tasting room if there’s a difference between using a cork and using a screwcap. Frequently, there is a tone of skepticism when asking about screwcaps, because screwcapped wines have a reputation for being cheap and terrible.

And it’s totally understandable to think of wines with screwcaps as cheaper; after all, they cost less and often bring the cost of the bottle down. But let’s get rid of the idea that wines with screwcaps are bad quality, because there are some wines with screwcaps that definitely rock.

Why do wineries use screwcaps? Wineries sometimes use screwcaps on their second label or grocery store labels (as in, the more reasonably priced bottles that they make a ton of and ship off to grocery stores). This way, they can price their bottles at a level that the everyday drinker is likely to buy- and let’s face it: the everyday drinker who shops at a grocery store is not as likely to be snobbish about their bottle closures. Also, there is a fairly small number (Wine Spectator addresses how small here) of bottles affected by “cork taint”, or the bacteria TCA that is found in corks; this problem is all but eliminated when you switch to screwcaps.

Why do wineries still use corks? A large part of it is traditionalism, I think. The ritual of pulling a cork from the bottle is undeniably a factor; I’ve met people who say they could never drink wine with a screwcap because they love the sound of popping a cork. Aging wine is another factor; the consensus right now is that corks help a wine to age by allowing a very, very small amount of oxygen into the bottle throughout the years. A screwcap is completely airtight, which is great for a lot of reasons, but also won’t add anything to the aging process. A lot more wineries are putting screwcaps on their whites, which should be drunk young, and corks in their reds, which usually have more aging potential.

Personally, I’ve had fantastic wines with screwcap closures, both white and red. As long as you’re going to drink the bottle within a couple years, I honestly don’t think it makes much of a difference. 

Do any readers have favorite wines with a screwcap? I think my next post might be a list of my favorite screwcap wines. 

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