Are Corks Better Than Screw Caps?

Are Corks Better Than Screw Caps?

The short answer is: no. The slightly longer answer is: they accomplish the same thing– preventing oxygen from turning your bottle of wine into a bottle of vinegar. And the full answer is: screw caps have more going for them, but corks still dominate the market, so it’s worth familiarizing yourself with situations that call for one or the other.

Screw caps are preferable when...

You don’t have a corkscrew.

This one sounds like a given, but think about all the times life would be simpler with a twist-off. There are the occasions when you leave your corkscrew at a friend’s, and end up YouTube’ing how to open wine with a shoe. There are the countless situations when bringing a corkscrew is an inconvenience, like at the beach or a picnic, and then there are the times when properly uncorking a bottle makes you empathize with Eminem for having sweaty palms and weak knees, like at the dinner table with in-laws or a date. 

You want to make sure your wine isn’t “corked.”

When sommeliers give you a taste of wine before pouring the bottle, they’re not trying to teach you moderation or judge your swirling technique. They’re letting you make sure that you like what you ordered, and that they’re not serving you a “corked” bottle. Corked wine has been tainted by a bacteria that can live on corks and make wine taste like wet cardboard, mold, or dirty socks. Because of manufacturing improvements, corked bottles are becoming rarer and rarer, but it still happens more often than it does with screw caps, which is never.

You want a wine to taste the same every time.

Even if wine isn’t corked, it’s possible for two identical bottles to taste quite a bit different. That’s because cork is a natural product, and thus each one is different. Some are more porous (allow more oxygen into the bottle) than others. As a result, corks can cause two bottles of the same wine to age at different rates and develop different flavors. 

You want the most bang for your buck.

A cork is about three times as expensive as a screw cap, and that cost gets transferred onto you. So the exact same wine would go for about $1 more if it were closed with a cork rather than a screw cap.

You’re casual about how you store wines.

Wines with corks need to be stored on their sides so the wine and cork remain in contact. This keeps the cork from drying out and allowing oxygen into the bottle. Similarly, corks harden and let air in when they’re kept in the refrigerator for a long period of time. Wines with screw caps, on the other hand, can be stored upright next to your eggs and OJ for as long as you like.

You feel like drinking wine from New Zealand or Australia.

New Zealand and Australia are the hypebeasts of the screw cap game. In fact, over 75% of Aussie wines and 90% of Kiwi wines are closed this way, including many of their highest-end bottles.

Corks are preferable when...

You’re a fan of tradition.

Corks have been used since Columbus got lost on his way to Asia, and they’re still the norm in the Old World. Because screw caps are (unfairly) associated with lower quality, they’re used in the vast majority of premium New World wines as well.

You plan on aging the wine for a while.

It may well turn out that wines with screw caps age the same as those with corks, but it’s not known for sure quite yet. So if you’re buying wine that you think will benefit from a few years in the cellar, corks are your safest bet.

However, the argument that corks are better for development because they gradually let wine breathe is outdated. Screw caps are now manufactured to let in specific amounts of oxygen, and winemakers can choose whatever level they prefer. 

You’re looking out for the environment.

Corks come from the bark of cork oak trees, which means they’re renewable and biodegradable. But keep in mind that most corks for non-premium wines aren’t 100% natural, and thus are as biodegradable as the glass bottles you take them out of.

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