Cork vs. Screw Cap, Topping It Off With Alternatives

screw cap on bottle

Published on October 24, 2013

After one last twist of the screw you ceremoniously pull the cork out of the bottle with a delightful little *pop* (a sound we love). The aromas of violets or ripe fruit fill the air, but every once in a while you get the unmistakable funky reek of a corked wine. About 3 to 5 percent of all bottles with natural corks show some degree of spoilage, so a variety of synthetic corks have entered the market with an aim to combat the problem. However, the plastic corks’ track record has been tarnished with their inability to keep oxidation at bay for any real length of time, significantly decreasing the shelf life of a wine. The solution? Screw caps.


Unfortunately, the innovative screw toppers have had a rough start getting into the closure game. Naive commentary has circulated in the past, associating screw caps with cheap wines and giving them some serious perception hurdles to jump over. Luckily, adventuresome New Zealand winemakers led the way in adopting the screw top and we’ve since seen their producers - along with neighboring Australians - overwhelmingly use screw caps for bottling. We’ve also seen adoption from others in the US, Canada, South Africa, and South America. Europeans are proving less receptive to testing the capping trend as many of the classic quality designations do not allow for using anything other than cork (Rioja and Chianti, for example). But this is a generalization as wineries in Germany and Spain are among those who are leading proponents for this closure.


Alternative seals have also made their way to the sparkling scene. Crown caps - like the ones you see on beer bottles - can be used with effervescent wines since they can handle the pressure from carbonation. These caps are actually used to seal the bottle when sparkling wine is in the stage of creating carbon dioxide from the mixing of sugar and yeast. After that process, the screw cap is removed so the winemaker can get rid of the sediment and then the bottle is plugged with a cork. Popping bottles of champagne can be fun, but crown caps offer an inexpensive alternative that eliminates the risk of oxidation.


Natural cork closures have a centuries-long heritage and many still prefer to use them on wines meant for aging. Producers will continue to use them so long as the cork oaks keep growing, but at the end of the day what really matters is what’s inside the bottle. Airtight seals ensure that oxygen can’t seep in and damage the wine. Many large producers have made the switch (Chateau Ste. Michelle, E & J Gallo) and it’s a trend that is likely to continue. So don’t be a stopper snob because the jury’s out. Screw caps are here to stay.


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