Natural cork vs. Screw Caps

By Vicki Tomiser~ VP of Customer Experience- Wine Ninja

Removing the Stigma from Alternatives to Cork as a closure for Wine

When you see a wine with a screwcap closure, do you assume it is a less expensive and probably less serious wine?

Wine is steeped in tradition. That is one of my favorite things about wine, but those traditions can lead to assumptions about wine that are not necessarily true.

The use of natural cork as a wine bottle closure has been standard practice since the 17th century. It was at that time that clay amphorae and wooden barrels were replaced by glass bottles.

Cork is an excellent closure in many ways, but there are factors surrounding the use of cork that have spurred innovation of the way wine bottles are sealed.

2,4,6 Trichloroanisole (or TCA) is a compound that is responsible for cork taint or “corked” wines. While drinking a corked wine will not hurt you, the wine’s flavor and aroma are seriously compromised. Have you ever smelled any of the following? :

Wet Dog,

Wet Cardboard,

Wet Newspaper,

Damp Basement

If so, you will have a great indicator of how a corked wine smells. There are different levels of cork taint and there are different levels of a person’s sensitivity to it. At a low level, the wine might not smell strongly of the above, but the aromas and flavors are just muted. It may basically smell and taste bland and boring. Again, this will not hurt you, but it is not the way the producer wants you to experience their wine. You may assume this is the natural state for this wine, and if you find it flavorless, chances are you will not purchase it again.

*Side note- if you are at a restaurant and you get a corked wine, do not hesitate to send it back.  Trust me, the producer and the restaurant want you to love your experience of the wine. 

2-3% of wine is corked. This means that a typical wine drinker will encounter 100 corked bottles in their lifetime. I would not consider myself a typical anything, but certainly not a typical wine drinker! That means that yours truly will encounter 500 bottles in my lifetime. This is neither a scientific or mathematical equation, but it feels right . 

Speaking of science...How does a wine become corked?  When airborne fungi and bacteria and chlorine meet phenolic compounds at the same time, then TCA occurs. Wineries are in the business of working with phenolic compounds (these are what affect the taste, color and mouthfeel of wine). Wineries also used to use chlorine to clean their equipment, so it makes a perfect storm for TCA to grow. Wineries no longer use chlorine but once you have TCA, it is hard to get rid of it.

I still love natural cork, but it is important that we acknowledge this can be a problem as well as remove the stigma from other closures that help guard against the problem.

What are the alternatives?

Screw Caps or Stelvin closures are made only from aluminum that threads onto the bottleneck.

The benefits of this closure are

  • Elimination of cork taint~ no cork = no taint
  • Tighter seal keeps out oxygen which preserves aromatic freshness
  • Ease of opening with no tool or skill needed (twist, pour, sip)

The bottom line on this closure is it is very effective in preserving wine that is meant to be drunk young.

There are contradictions in its effectiveness in wines aged more than 10 years. Let’s keep it real here, most of us are consumers, not collectors of wine. According to studies, 90% of all wine purchased is consumed within 24 hours.

There are other options I can discuss in future posts, but for now, you can feel comfortable with that screw cap.

Twist. Pour. Sip. Enjoy.

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