Jeff Flowers on December 19, 2017 1 Comment It’s no secret that the classic cork enclosure has long dominated the wine industry. Fast-forward to the mid 1960s, however, and a new option came along that has made significant inroads in the years since — the humble screw cap. While screw caps have been around in one form or another for well over a century, it’s only been within the past 50 or so years that they’ve grown in popularity. Today, almost 90% of enclosures used in New Zealand feature screw caps instead of traditional corks. So, why exactly do screw caps have a bad reputation? The issue comes down to miseducation more than anything else, as screw top enclosures are actually better for the wine they hold inside the bottle for many reasons. Many amateur wine enthusiasts even scoff at bottles that don’t feature real corks, which is a true shame — they’re missing out on some of the best wines the world has to offer. To help dispel this unfortunate myth, let’s take a closer look at the differences between wine bottles with screw caps, and those with cork enclosures. Corks Corks have been the number one choice for winemakers since the 1400s, and for good reason. For one, they’re derived from natural resources, which many believe has a significant impact on long-term aging and how particular varietals of wine change over time. Perhaps, the major reason why corks are so often utilized is that they truly are capable of preserving wine for many years, as long as the proper storage methods are utilized. Plus, they’ve simply been preferred throughout history, leading countless winemakers to not even think twice about incorporating corks into their bottles. Are Corked Bottles Best? All this said, corks are far from perfect when it comes to packaging, aging, and storing wine. Here are a few of the downsides associated with corked wine. More Expensive: For one, using corks is quite expensive — 2-3x more expensive than alternative enclosures like screw caps. This extra cost is often passed down to the consumer. Environmental Concerns: The beneficial aspect of corks being derived from natural resources also means that the production and use of these materials does have an impact on the environment. This could very well lead to a shortage one day. Possibly even leaving some cork trees susceptible to a changing climate. Storage & Aging Concerns: Corks can also breathe. This allows oxygen to slowly, and freely, enter the bottle as it ages. This not only affects the aging process, but may lead to oxidation that irreversibly affects the quality of the wine in the bottle. Undesirable Changes to Wine: However, without a doubt, the biggest issue associated with using corks is a condition that every winemaker dreads — cork taint. Often referred to as TCA, short for “2,4,6-Trichloroanisole,” this is a condition that affects approximately 1-3% of all bottles which utilize natural corks as a method to enclose wine. Cork taint produces unpleasant off-flavors reminiscent of moldy cardboard or wet newspaper and can absolutely ruin even the most beautiful of wines. As a result, corking a bottle with natural materials is always a gamble, which is just one reason why many producers who aren’t using screw cap enclosures have moved on to synthetic corks for their wines. If you’ve heard someone say a wine is “corked,” they’re referring to TCA cork taint. Screw Caps Screw caps may be new to the party in comparison with natural corks, but they have a long list of supporters behind them — including some of the world’s best winemakers. As mentioned above, they’re much more affordable than traditional corks, making them ideal for start-up producers who have a limited budget to work with. They’re much easier to open and do not require a corkscrew. Perhaps, the best advantage of screw caps is that you eliminate any chance of cork particles falling into your wine upon opening the bottle. As more winemakers start to adopt the use of screw caps, they’ve start to learn that they are able to reduce the amount of flaws that are in the final product. The likelihood of TCA affecting wines with screw caps is pretty slim. Other research has indicated that the screw caps don’t hinder the aging process, so they’re not just for quick consumption wines. But, is there anything wrong with screw caps? This largely depends upon who you ask. Like corks, these have have their own set of disadvantages. Environmental Concerns: They’re made from non-renewable resources and aren’t biodegradable, which some find from an environmental perspective to be less than ideal. Storage & Aging Concerns: They also don’t “breathe” the way that traditional corks do, although the notion that a wine must breathe in order to age gracefully has been largely debunked. The Stigma of Screw Caps: Perhaps the only other issue with screw caps is that they tend to be associated with lesser-quality wines, although this is largely a result of stigma more than anything else. Despite their growing acceptance, the stigma associated with screw caps continues to plague their use. Are screw caps better or worse than cork? There is no correct answer. They each have their own set of pros and cons, but to equate the use of screw caps with poor-quality wine is an unfounded and undeserved myth. The Bottom Line The wine industry is constantly looking for ways to move in a forward direction, and advancements in packaging technologies are sure to continue popping up. Though some may be quick to dismiss screw caps as being “lesser” than the cork-based alternative, they can actually be significantly better for the wine inside the bottle. Traditional wine corks aren’t going to go away anytime soon, but once more producers see just how beneficial it is to go with screw caps, the presence of traditional corks may dwindle as the years progress.