The whole Cork vs. Screwcap argument has been raging for a while now, and both sides offer valid arguments for why each is better. So here are a few facts (and maybe the odd conjecture) on what is a key decision for every winemaker in the world.
First off lets have a look at a cork: Favoured by traditionalists, cork closures have been around for centuries and have a proven track record for preserving wine in bottle. Cork is breathable, allowing the wine inside to slowly develop over time, this is where we get some of the unique complexities in aged wine from e.g. savoury, leathery and earthy for reds or nutty, toasty and honeyed for whites. Tannin (mostly in reds) too is proven to soften out over time, making a bold wine more approachable. Cork is also renewable and sustainable, and in the countries that produce it, Portugal for example, it is a significant export and a boost to the economy.
Sounds good right? Well…yes, but not always – because cork is breathable it can lead to lots of bottle variation, and the longer a bottle is left to age the more chance of variation it has. There is no more exasperating feeling in wine than polishing off an amazing bottle, then opening a second to find it tastes totally different, and no where near as good. There is also the risk of cork taint, which is only discovered when a bottle is opened, so sadly there is very little that can be done to stop it. For winemakers cork is also the more expensive option, leading many to look at synthetic corks as an alternative, however (and this is one of the conjecture bits) they look cheap, have a plastic feel and ultimately leave you feeling a little disappointed when you pop them out.
So…Screwcap: Lets kick off with one of it’s most prevalent benefits – that once it’s sealed, it’s sealed. Only damage or a mistake in fitting the cap in the first place (and this is usually picked up) is going to ruin your wine. A winemaker recently told us that he had to recall virtually all of his 2007 vintage due to failed corks, and this was the good stuff, used in the top Bordeaux Chateaux, so he switched to screwcap and has never looked back. There is also no cork taint, and, studies are starting to show that long term ageing is possible. The last bonus point for screwcap is that they are easy to open, a quick twist and off you go. It’s also easier to keep, just screw the lid back on and pop the wine in the fridge.
There are negatives though….firstly it can make an expensive wine seem cheaper, it shouldn’t matter but it does, it takes some of the drama and showmanship away from opening a nice bottle. Because screwcaps are less breathable there is a very good chance that the wine will take much longer to age and mature, and although this is in some ways a good thing and you don’t have to worry about the cork disintegrating, it is still early days for the results of long-term screwcap ageing.
Our thoughts are that it’s not easy to pick the two apart as both cork and screwcap have benefits, ultimately it’s a choice each individual winemaker has to make, but their decision will affect how your wine tastes and ages over-time. Cork is a riskier option but the rewards with patience are proven, and being honest, pigs will fly before we will ever see a top wine like Petrus with a screwcap. Even still, expect screwcaps to be the mainstay of most modern wineries, and a lot of those in Australia & New Zealand have already made the move. Personally, if it was for our own wine stash, then we would choose cork for ageing but screwcap for virtually everything else!