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Sunday, 18 May 2014

Cork vs screw cap. Wine closures

Why are some wines sealed with corks and some with screw tops? 
We have now seen and tasted enough wines to see that the screw top ( aka Stelvin) sealed wines are just as age worthy and do not affect the quality of wine. 

Pros and Cons 
Why then with a worldwide cork shortage and increasing numer of cork spoiled wines are we still using the cork enclosure. 
When we traveled to Chile and Argentina I asked a few winemakers this same question. 
The common answer was tradition. In South America over 75% of wines are still sealed with corks. One wine maker (who shall remain anonymous) commented to me that when they package a wine with screw tops they do not sell. They produced the same wine and exported it all over South America and the cork version sold much faster and for a higher price than the Stelvin version. 
Therefore it must be assumed that consumers feel like a cork equals higher value. 

In contrast over 90% of wines exported from New Zealand are sealed with screw caps. In that market consumers must either not care or they have come to realize that screw caps don't equal cheap wine. I think the later is true. 

I would consider myself a traditionalist when it comes to wine but I also have to be open minded. Corks have worked for centuries but we have also had faulty wines for centuries. If screw tops will reduce the number of bad wines then we as consumers should not reject this idea. I agree there is a romance with opening wine with a corkscrew and that having a Sommelier at a restaurant unscrew your wine lacks that romantic flair. But we have to protect the wine. What is more important? The wine or the tradition. In efforts to keep the tradition the industry has created these anomalies call 'synthetic corks'. They are not corks and they do not work very well. They are cheap, sterile and require a corkscrew to remove but they also leak, taste like plastic and have a higher chance of failure under change of temperature and shipping conditions. 

The only arguments against the screw cap is the lack of 'cool factor' & time required to age a wine. The sealed cap does not allow the wine to breath as much as a porous cork therefore taking a longer time to properly age a wine that could benefit from it. Just like a larger format bottle, like Magnums, require more time due to the amount of wine to air (fill level or in some wine inert gas) ratio. In my biased opinion the benefits far outweigh the downfall. Especially once we see the consumers embrace the screw cap. Beside it is much more convenient to open a bottle of wine at a party or picnic when you forget to bring a corkscrew. 

To me there are only 2 options. Deal with the faulty corks or embrace the screw cap. I hope to see the whole wine industry accept the Stelvin as a valuable upgrade.