Traditionally bottles of wine have been sealed using corks, which for many people is still an indicator of the quality of a particular bottle. After all, a cork evokes much stronger emotions in many people when it comes to their wine, with many agreeing that a screw top devalues the drink and makes it less appealing as a result.
However, it is important to note that both are in prominent use in the world of Italian wine. Furthermore, some truly great vintages have been released with screw tops, while some truly awful wines have sported corks.
As such, whether a bottle has a cork or screw top is not necessarily an indicator of its quality. In fact, on a more practical level, both offer a variety of advantages that winemakers must consider before choosing which one they will use.
Here we take a look at the good and bad of each, so you can decide for yourself which is the best material for sealing a bottle of wine.
As previously mentioned, cork is seen as the more traditional choice amongst many wine lovers, which automatically stands it in good stead. Historically it has been the preferred material to use when sealing a bottle of wine and it is only in recent years, where man-made materials have become more prominent, that it has started to see a true challenge to that title.
That’s not to say that there aren’t other benefits to cork beyond the history. For one, it is a naturally occurring and sustainable resource, making it ideal for people with an environmental conscience. Furthermore, thanks to its tradition it is well known that a bottle that is corked has the potential to age properly. Simply put, we know that wine ages well in a corked bottle, which is why so many red wines end up being corked.
However, there are a number of reasons why there has been a shift away from cork in many areas of the Italian wine industry. Cost is most certainly a factor, with cork generally being considered to be two or three times more expensive than the alternatives. This cost is naturally passed onto the consumer, which is why many budget wine brands choose to go with alternatives.
Furthermore, you can never fully guarantee that you are getting good cork to seal your bottle with. As it is a naturally occurring material, the quality of the cork itself can often be called into question. For one, you can never fully guarantee the rate at which the material will breathe, meaning that wines that use cork can’t be as strictly regulated as those that use an alternative.
Furthermore, it is important to note that there is always the potential for a wine to be affected by ‘cork taint’, which is a top of spoilage caused by a poor quality cork. In these cases the wines bouquet and overall taste are affected to such a degree that the wine itself becomes damaged, meaning a reduction in the carefully created quality that you should be experiencing. It is estimated that anywhere between 1 and 3 percent of all cork-sealed bottles suffer from this issue, and you often won’t be aware of it until you purchase the bottle and pop the cork. This can be particularly frustrating if it is an expensive bottle, though many producers go to great lengths to secure high quality cork.
In recent years many winemakers are leaning towards the screw top as their bottle sealant of choice and there are a number of practical benefits, both for the industry and the wine itself, with this option.
For one, it is far less expensive to seal a bottle using a screw top, which means you can often expect to pay less money if the bottle has one. This should not be seen as a reflection on the bottle’s quality, as many people make the mistake of simply assuming that more expensive means better when it comes to wine.
Screw tops are also easy to open and close, allowing you to reseal the wine once it has been opened. This is something that is generally not possible with corked vintages and it allows you to preserve the wine for a little longer, though you must always take the effects of oxidation into account as well.
Finally, there is absolutely no risk of ‘cork taint’ with a screw top. They are all manufactured to exacting standards so you can always be certain that you are getting what you expect from the bottle. This allows the wine to stand on its own qualities, rather than being affected by external factors.
That’s not to say it’s all positive though. For one, there is always going to be a stigma attached to screw tops, with many people associating them with ‘cheap’ wines and thus assuming the quality of a vintage based on what is used to seal the bottle alone. This is often sort-sighted, but it is a prejudice that very much exists in the world of Italian wine.
You will also need to deal with the fact that many screw tops don’t breathe like a cork, which many will argue affects ageing in vintages that benefit from extra time. This is not certain though, and a number of studies are emerging that appear to demonstrate that wines age well with a screw top, but it is still something to consider.
Unlike cork, screw tops are also made using non-renewable resources for the most time. This means they are often not the choice of the environmentally conscious, even if it is possible to recycle the caps themselves after use. For many, the use of a non-natural material also goes against the concept behind a bottle of wine. If the wine advertises itself prominently as reflecting the environment in which it is grown, many people will look at a man-made screw top and see an addition to the wine that is completely unnatural, thus invalidating the claim. Whether that thought holds any credence is another matter entirely, but it can still lead to decisions being made based on the screw top.