Screw-Cap Wine As Good — or Better! — Than Corked Wine

More and more wines are coming with screwcaps instead of corks. Good.

Why you should care: A sizable minority of natural corks can introduce a nasty chemical (TCA) into the wine, giving it a musty, dirty flavor. Longer-term, corks also let in more oxygen, which causes the wine’s flavors to deteriorate. Screwcaps keep far more oxygen out, don’t inject TCA into the juice, and result in a more consistent product.

Proof? How about a taste test of the same higher-end wines, bottled at the same time, but with different closures:

The difference was shocking. With screwcap, the 2002 Chablis St. Martin (about $25; find this wine) was still a youthful, flinty Chablis without a whole lot of intrigue but solid and fresh. The cork closure for the same wine, by contrast, was older tasting with more signs of oxidation. Everyone save one person at the tasting preferred the screwcap.

So what’s stopping the global takeover of screwcaps? Tradition. A misguided impression that corks equate with quality.

Don’t buy into that. Opening a bottle of wine by turning the cap might feel like opening a Miller Lite, and you won’t get the satisfaction of a good “pop!” but you’re paying for what’s inside, after all. Get the best quality for the money, we say! MARK ASHLEY

Bringing closure? A screwcap-cork showdown [DrVino.com]
(Photo: Mr.mt)

Comments

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  1. MeOhMy says:

    Synthetic corks, which I am finding more and more often in the $10-$20 wines I buy seem like a good compromise between getting the “better performance” of screwtop and the “feeling of not drinking Boone’s Farm” of a cork.

  2. konstantConsumer says:

    while it’s fun to open a bottle of corked wine in your own home, the screw cap is so much better in the food business. i worked a wedding this weekend, and my fingers are sliced to hell after cutting them on the foil of about 50 bottles of wine.

  3. tcabeen says:

    Unfortunately, DrVino.com is blocked at my office. I was simply wondering if synthetic corks were considered. I of course equate screw-top wine with cheap. I mean, cooking wines, not fit for drinking, are the only screw-tops I can think of. I’m equally biased against synthetic corks. However, intellectually, I realize that these prejudices are bunk. My mind is slowly changing on the matter. I recently got a bottle of OOPS! that tastes skunkier than the cheapest swill. It’s the only bottle I’ve tried (and the only I will), but this article got me thinking.

  4. vannsant says:

    Pick up a bottle Twin Fin. An good inexpensive screw-cap wine.

  5. NoctisEqui says:

    Another reason to not drink corked wine: cork comes from cork trees, which are being depleted at an astonishing rate because of our insatiable thirst for vino. A lot of higher end wine companies are using screw caps or synthetic corks for that reason, which I applaud. Given a preference, I would choose screw cap over synthetic cork; I imagine the plastic used in the “cork” contains phthalates, which are pretty much the worst chemicals you could ever put in your body.

  6. Pelagius says:

    But you’re putting hundreds of Portuguese cork farmers out of business! They’ll turn to Islamic Terrorism and then where will you be?

    This message brought to you by the Portuguese Cork Council.

    Cork: It’s what’s for dinner

  7. Kangarara says:

    Well, duh.

    The New Worlders (AU & NZ in particular) have been leading the charge on this. And it’s well, well, well overdue.

  8. nweaver says:

    There are some really cool screwcap closures out there now, probably the slickest looking is the Wak ( http://www.globalcap-wineclosures.com/wak.shtml )

    Basically, anything that’s not a “Sit for 5+ year” wine, screwcap is the way to go, and as for the “Sit for 5+ year” wine, thats as much because it hasn’t been tested.

    Synthetic corks are the worst, however. They are harder to pull out, don’t get a good seal, and look cheezey. Either real cork or screwcap, please.


    Alot of the higher end wines targeting resteraunts are going screwcap, as much for easing the time for the servers.

  9. G says:

    @NoctisEqui – You are correct that quite a few vineyards are switching to screw caps because of rising cork prices and shortages (predominately German Rieslings). However don’t be so shortsided to dismiss synthetic corks as a viable alternative. Unless you plan on eating the synthetic cork as an hors’ devours you need not worry about the phthalates, they don’t leech.

  10. kerry says:

    I remember a few years ago reading an article with a title something along the lines of “Why is there a screw cap on my very expensive bottle of wine?” explaining the shift to non-cork closures. Personally, I buy wine at about the same rate I drink it, and reclose with a vacuum stopper (I usually go through a bottle of wine about every 3 days) so I couldn’t care less what the original closure is made out of.

  11. “The New Worlders (AU & NZ in particular) have been leading the charge on this. And it’s well, well, well overdue.”

    And if you’re a fan of those wines (adore those Aussie Shirazes), you get used to synthetic corks and screwtops really fast and it’s amazing how quickly you stop noticing.

    And get annoyed the next time you get a real cork and the damn thing breaks in half during opening!

  12. Gari N. Corp says:

    @Kangarara: True Dat. There are no Oz wines with corks. I just went on holiday there, and like every time I’d go off looking for a corkscrew and look like a moronclown

  13. AtomikB says:

    Spanish and Portuguese cork forests are the only habitat of the endangered Iberian lynx. Demand for natural cork is the only thing keeping these cork forests from being plowed under for more profitable agricultural crops. Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the Iberian lynxes?

    Also, cork sap is harvested from cork trees year after year in a sustainable way, just like maple syrup is from maple trees. Using natural cork helps Spanish and Portuguese cork farmers preserve their traditional way of life, while preserving a priceless wildlife habitat.

    Keep it traditional, keep it real, save a lynx, and save Señor Del Bosque’s traditional lifestyle. It’s a winning combination!

  14. Panhandler says:

    AtomikB, I can’t tell if that’s true, or buh-rill-yant satire. Darn you; now I have to go wikipede “Iberian Lynx” to see if I’ve been had or not…

    Also, there’s a lot more to this debate than represented on Consumerist. Head over to the WineLoversPage.com if you want to find a few years’ worth of bickering on the subject between people who know wine. Or claim to.

  15. erika says:

    Plus! Screw cap wine is way easier to sneek into the movies!

    Thank you for your time,
    the town drunk.

  16. flyover says:

    Screwcaps are great for whites & cheap, drink within a year or two reds.
    But, the natural corks does allow aging which is what the bigger, usually pricier reds aim for. Some wines you don’t want to taste the same as the day they were bottled.

    Two points of contention – not sure if you actually researched this beyond the article:
    Oxygen doesn’t necessarily cause deteriorating – see above with regards to red wine.
    From everything I’ve learned, that “Sizable Minority” = less than 1%.

    I would be real suprised if any red over $30 retail moves to screwcap soon.

  17. FLConsumer says:

    Without regular corks, what will the cork soakers do? (Referencing the SNL skit)

  18. typetive says:

    NoctisEqui – uh, cork trees are not cut down to harvest cork. Some cork forest on the Iberian Peninsula have been there for 400 years or more and as AtomiKB pointed out, they’re the last home to many species now found nowhere else because of human settlement of Europe.

    If we’re not going to use cork for bottling, please someone use more cork for flooring and get an extra bulletin board. For the Iberian Lynx’s sake!

  19. Death says:

    I did a project for Sam Adams brewery a while ago, and asked Jim Koch why his beer required an opener. “Screwtops are a sign of cheap beer” was the reply.

  20. JosephFinn says:

    A lot of sommeliers, according to Alpana Singh’s book, prefer screwcaps, for both the ease and that overall it doesn’t affect the wine (there are obviously exceptions for wines that need to age longer than most.

  21. @FLConsumer: Just as I was thinking about going in to cork soaking too!

  22. nerdy says:

    Actually, some high-end French wineries have also converted to screw top. And some of those wines cost considerably more than $30. In some recent articles, Wine Spectator has featured a few of these high-end French wineries to make the leap to screw tops (or stelvin enclosure – which just sounds classier!).
    http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Features/0,1197,3121,00….
    http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Features/0,1197,3672,00….

    There is also some debate over whether corks help wine age by letting in a little air. According Michael Wilson’s article wines under screw tops age well, too. http://www.hockley.com/pdf/Sommelier1.pdf

  23. Bay State Darren says:

    This is why I stick to beer. I don’t need a Ph.D. to get plastered.

  24. nequam says:

    I’m hoping they start selling wine in plastic, wide-mouth bottles like those beers they sell at ballgames.

  25. PDQ says:

    In theory, wine in a box is even better than screw caps because the “Bladder Of Wine” that’s inside the box stays air-free, unlike an opened bottle. That being said, I’d rather drink the whole bottle myself (heck, let’s make it two bottles) to keep it from spoiling than drink boxed wine.

    PS – Another reason for screw top bottles: After 9/11 airline crews weren’t able to use corkscrews on their planes. So any airlines serving wine to their passengers started requiring the wineries that supplied them to use screw caps.

  26. gardencat says:

    Sharing a bottle of wine consists of uncorking and re-corking three or four times. Sometimes repeated use of a cork-screw can add bits of cork to the liquid…and sometimes when uncorking, the cork does not want to come back out, but that problem can be solved with a pair of pliers. I much prefer the screw cap.

  27. Nygdan says:

    Cork was only ever used because it was a cheap and convenient way to top the bottle. It was the screw-cap of its day.

    The characteristics of the container and top have nothing to do with the wine inside. That should go without saying.

  28. Unamerican says:

    @NoctisEqui: Sorry, that’s not true. Cork is cultivated in Portugal and Spain…the cultivation is both an important industry, and vital to the native bird populations, as well as to migrating birds.

    I personally prefer screw tops, but we do need to find other uses for cork before we make screw-tops standard, as typetive says.

  29. Unamerican says:

    Also, both beer and non-age-worthy wine would be fine in recyclable PET bottles. Would the beer drinkers here mind plastic bottles of beer, considering how snobby a lot of beer drinkers I know are about drinking canned beer? I’m legitimately curious, not being snarky.

  30. FreakyStyley says:

    @Unamerican: My beer usually ends up in a glass anyway, so it wouldn’t be a big deal.

  31. MeOhMy says:

    @gardencat: ?
    Why not just put the cork back in part way, or better still get one of those stoppers with the levers that cost $2?

    By sharing it sounds like you’re drinking it all in one sitting, so I’m not even sure why you would want to jam the cork back in at all.

  32. Fuzzy_duffel_bag says:

    There’s one brand of screw-top wine I see at Trader Joe’s that has a tag on it explaining that the screw top is to help prevent “cork taint.”

    I don’t know if this actually exists, but boy does the word “taint” make me giggle.

    Now if only my bottle of Dry Sack had a case of cork taint.

  33. Mr. Gunn says:

    I’ve seen wine in juice boxes. Now that’s the way to do it!

  34. Elaine Chow says:

    I have never ever heard the term cork taint from a sommelier, so I’m going to go with it being something marketers made up to get people more in love with screw taps and synthetic corks.

    But as some people have mentioned, Mark Ashley (and a few of the commenters) are being very unfair to natural cork. It’s environmentally friendly, it helps wines (esp. red wines) age well and it protects a way of life and a natural habitat in a sustainable way.

    Some treehugger links:
    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/05/cork_does_it_al.ph
    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/05/yes_to_cork_sav.ph

  35. laurenl842 says:

    Have you ever been so drunk that you didn’t realize your second bottle of wine had a screw off top? And you only found this out after you had jacked your wine opener into it a couple hundred times and it wouldn’t budge?

    Yeah, neither have I.

  36. Omri says:

    Re the Iberian lynx, it’s true:

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/05/yes_to_cork_sav.ph

    Apparently without protection of the cork forests (cork is harvested from the bark of a special oak tree roughly every 9 years and then allowed to grow back – some still productive trees are well over 200 years old), then habitat and livelihoods may be lost. 62,500 workers might be displaced along with the “endangered Iberian lynx, the Barbary deer, the black vulture and the imperial Iberian eagle.”

    This is awesome, because it provides a rational reason for my otherwise irrational prejudice against screwtops. If it doesn’t have cork, it might as well come in a box.

  37. Nygdan says:

    on ‘cork taint’, its definitely real. I’ve more often heard it as ‘this wine has been corked’. There’s something in the cork that affects the taste of the wine, making it taste ‘corked’, which apparently is a flavour of, as described to me, ‘wet cardboard’. It doesn’t happen much, but it can certainly ruin any wine out there.

  38. LuvJones says:

    So I can now be classy and snotty whilst drinking my Boone’s Farm….yeah me!

  39. Nunquam-Spuemus says:

    Cork taint is trichloroanisole. Humans can taste it at levels below 1 ppm. It tastes like cork, hence the term, “corked.” The wine can also taste and smell musty, excessively earthy or just plain dull. A sommelier who presented a corked bottle to a customer would not have his job for very long.

    I buy wine by the case, and I drink it every day with dinner. These wines come from all over the (wine) world, and are not cheap, usually $300 or so per case. It is not unusual to find a bottle with cork taint, I’ve had as many as 3, 25% of the case. In theory, these bottles can be returned to the retailer for credit, but that means use have to retrieve the tainted cork from the garbage, make sure your wife or the hostess doesn’t dump the contents at some point, carry an open bottle home in the car, remember to take it with you the next time you go to the wine store, transport the open bottle a second time…

    I would estimate that its 1% of the tainted bottles that are reported, not 1% of the wine. Its more like 10+% of wine bottles and its become more frequent in recent years.