Corks or Screwcaps or Corks
Consumers are looking for a little bit of luxury from their wine experience. Whether they’re drinking a table wine or popping open a bottle for a once-in-a-lifetime event, repeated studies show that consumers prefer natural cork-based closures. The ritual pull, pop and pour are defining moments in an elegant tradition. There is a huge consumer reluctance to see anything but natural corks in a premium bottle of wine.
You might taste a wine that you don’t like and never buy it again. The problems may have nothing to do with the way the wine was made or stored, it might have been tainted due to a faulty closure.
First, there is the age old problem of TCA, (2,4,6 trichloroanisole), a chlorine based compound which can be detected in minute quantities and gives the wine an odor likened to a wet newspaper or moldy basement. Despite the best efforts of the cork industry, TCA in natural corks still hovers at about 2%.- 5%
Winemakers almost unanimously condemn natural cork as product that belongs in the past. When tainted with TCA, it is especially insidious as at lower levels it is not obvious as the cause of the reduced quality of the wine you are about to drink. But is most certainly could be. Cork growers and producers want no responsibility. Plastic corks work well in the short term but can be hard to extract and plastic will degrade over time resulting in premature oxidation.
Over the last decade or so an increasing number of respected, quality-driven wine producers have been choosing to challenge tradition and present their wines to us under a screw cap wine seal. Screw cap wine seals eliminate the threat of 'cork taint' and premature oxidation but it requires careful attention to maintaining tolerance during the capping process. Advocates claim they allow the wine in each bottle to mature and develop its true character, uniformly and naturally, as intended by the winemaker some even allow for “micro-breathing and debate remains if this is even necessary or useful.
Many are convinced the food-grade polymer at the base of the seal has little effect on the taste or quality of the wine. Many highly respected wineries around the world store their own precious 'library stock' wines under screw cap wine seals - to ensure that the wines are not at risk of oxidation or taint. Yet others disagree.
The advantages of using the screw cap as a wine seal include:
1) Confidence that you will receive wine in premium condition and a pleasure to drink.
2) No bottle variation - each bottle of a given wine will be consistent and predictable.
3) Elimination of cork taint and TCA.
4) Dependable cellaring - the elimination of random, premature wine oxidation (seen as rapid ageing, discoloration, loss of flavor and ultimately, the destruction of the wine
5) You can confidently cellar your wines with the bottles vertically for longer periods of time with greater resistance to changes in temperature or humidity or worry about recapping old bottles.
6) No corkscrews to manipulate, crumbly corks to extract
7) Consistent anaerobic aging with a reliable long term seal.
8) If you don't finish your wine that night, you can happily reseal the bottle for the next day.
9) Screw caps are romantic, because they maintain the quality of the wine and of the moment?
Today there is a move to an option with a granulated cork where the cork bits have gone through a process of supercritical carbon-dioxide which removes he TCA in the cork or other treatment. Success rates are reported to be very high without requiring a retooling of bottling lines. Advocates claim they can confidently open any bottle of wine and know with almost absolute certainty that the wine is just as the winemaker intended. It is however distinguishable from traditional natural cork.
The future of wine closures remains to be seen but is likely not natural cork, as we know it. It will probably be a combination of screw caps or processed cork. It will probably take years yet as the wine-industry is incredibly conservative. Perhaps it is a bit too soon to predict corkscrews will go the way of slide-rules and buggy whips just yet.
If you do come across a bottle of wine that is obviously corky one suggestion is to add a piece of cling film / saran wrap to the wine. It can strip away some of the TCA (as well as some other flavor compounds in the wine) but could render the wine drinkable and save it from the drain.