Sarah on July 31, 2014 4 Comments If you are a lover of wine, then you might be curious as to which is the top contender in the battle between the cork vs. screw top. There are two sides to every coin, and the same is true for screw tops and corks. Before you shun the new and unfamiliar screw caps for the more traditional and widely accepted cork, find out what the real pros and cons are for each. Cork The wine industry is deeply steeped in tradition. With that said, it comes as no surprise that the reason corks are hailed as the preferred method is largely because of the loaded connotation of tradition. Think about it, though: Simply because corks have been around since the 1400s doesn’t mean that they’re automatically better than screw tops. One of the main reasons cork was originally used was due to the fact that it’s pliable enough to efficiently hold wine inside of its glass bottle. photo credit Some of the biggest advantages to using natural cork include: Proven long-term aging An environmentally friendly and renewable resource The preferred method of storing wine since its inception One of the reasons that cork has fallen out of favor with some winemakers is that anywhere from three to five percent of bottles that have natural cork eventually start to show signs of spoiling. Trichloroanisole, also known as TCA, is a complex chemical that results from cork reactions. These special reactions involve the chlorine bleach that’s utilized in the manufacturing of corks and natural molds. A few of the major disadvantages of natural cork are: TCA cork corruption Financial expense Variable quality Limited resource Variable rate of breathability Screw Caps & Cork Alternatives The first use of screw caps was in 1964, and since then they’ve quickly gained popularity in a large portion of the wine market. Wine lovers who have an affinity for Australian or New Zealand wines might have noticed how popular screw caps have become in that region alone. The main reason that screw caps and cork alternatives have become a sometimes preferred method of keeping wine is that the quality of cork manufacturing became unreliable in the 1980s. Imagine how frustrated winemakers would become if time after time their expensive and best bottles of wine succumbed to TCA cork corruption. It’s also worth noting the benefit to twisting off the cap from your wine rather than nearly having an aneurism trying to pull out the stubborn cork. Cork alternatives can be made from plant-based polymers and plastics. Just like regular cork, they too have their share of pros and cons. The pros include: A more financially sound option No natural cork corruption to worry about More positive results with long-term aging Disadvantages with cork alternatives are: Some of them aren’t very breathable They’re constructed from non-renewable resources Often lumped in the same group as “cheap” wine Inconsistent manufacturing quality Recyclable but not biodegradable like natural cork The Wine Breathalyzer One of the biggest arguments in favor of natural corks is the belief that they breathe better than screw caps or corks made from alternative materials. The truth is that screw caps and alternative corks breathe just as well as natural corks. There are special screw caps that you can purchase that have measured levels of oxygen ingress. Real corks actually have rather inconsistent rates of oxygen ingress, which means that the same kind of wine can taste different if bottled with different corks. Just as there are different types of wine, there are also different types of natural cork. For example, some corks might not be dense enough for the opening of the wine bottle, which can cause the wine to seep its way up the sides of the cork. A cork of low quality might be made with cork dust and glue, otherwise known as a colmated cork. Low quality corks have also been known to break off into the bottle of wine when they are opened. Cork manufacturers might bleach their corks in order to give them a more pure appearance. The major problem with this method is that it can lead to cork corruption. Trend to Watch: Vinolok Vinolok is an example of a cork alternative on the rise. One of the reasons that Vinolok has become so popular with wine lovers is that it has such a tight seal, which keeps the wine well contained and offers a low impact on the wine itself. Not only that but the special wine closure has also been known to allow for complete control over the wine’s aging process. And since it is made from glass, users don’t have to worry about cork taint. Vinolok is also reusable, so even if the glass stopper does cost more than you might like, you can use it several times over. For predominantly logistical reasons, Vinolok has not quite made its way into the wine industry as a whole, but it’s a great example of the forward-thinking innovations that the wine industry needs. Final Word With so many pros and cons to consider, you might be a little confused as to which is better: cork, screw cap, or cork alternative. The truth is that until there’s a definitive study or general consensus on the topic, the decision is really up to you. When you sample wines, ask about the cork or cap while you’re asking about the notes and age of the wine. Ask other wine lovers, wine experts, and sommeliers their opinion on the subject and if they prefer one over the others. One thing is clear: Not only is what’s inside the bottle of wine important, so is what’s keeping it in there.