Since the very first introduction of screw caps, the much debated cork vs cap subject has been one of much controversy in the wine industry and a hot topic amongst wine lovers too. Though both methods have its pros & cons (as needed for any good debate, otherwise there wouldn’t be one in the first place), we did a little digging of our own, in search of the most recent research’s findings on this matter…
Wine traditionalists have long looked down on screw top bottles, but understand one thing, we certainly don’t. There is undoubtedly a time and place for it, otherwise it wouldn’t have been around since 1964. The wine modernists on the other hand, claim that there are more advantages to the use of the nifty little screw cap, including its ease of opening, the prevention of oxidation and tainted wine… And maybe that’s true, but you have to agree, the sound of metal screeching definitely sends all the romance out the door!
The humble cork has been around since the 1400s and has stood the test of time in proving its capability to preserve wine for long periods of time. Some experts are of the opinion that the slow ingress of oxygen through the porous cork is critical in the process of aging wine. Other experts in the field believe that this exact element is what causes wines to be tainted. We have all opened a bottle that is tainted or corked, the common term used to refer to the presence of a chemical compound called TCA (trichloroanisole), which is formed when a natural fungi (of which many reside in the cork) comes in contact with certain elements within the wine. This gives the wine a mouldy smell or wet cardboard taste. The screwcap on the other side, are believed to cause a process of reduction, leading to a sulphur smell which can alter the taste of wines. It essentially depends on the sacrifice you are willing to make for something that is VERY rewarding!
Certain wines, especially the big, bold cultivars such as Cabernet Sauvignon, benefits greatly from a few years’ aging to ensure a silky, elegant wine and we are still of the belief that cork is best for this natural process, allowing the admission of the required oxygen. The screwcap only gained popularity in the 1980s due to a period of poor cork quality which left many bottles undrinkable. So the heated debates date back to that era and have resulted in the publishing of one list after the other, comparing the pros and cons of these two wine sealing methods. The benefits of the screwcap include its affordability, the ease of opening, the elimination of tainted wine, whereas its disadvantages include the variable manufacturing quality, its non-biodegradable factor, the association with ‘cheap’ wines and no allowance for the wine to breathe. Corks on the other hand, are seen as a natural renewable resource, it’s historically preferred, it allows the wine to breathe and have a proven record of long-term wine aging. The downside according to studies is the element of tainted wine, it is more expensive than the cork alternatives and it varies in quality, leading to inconsistent ingression of oxygen.
Due to these years and years of controversial opinions, the Oregon State University (in 2004) and the University of Oxford (in 2017), both conducted a study to investigate the matter, in the hope to settle this matter once and for all. In both studies, during a blind taste test, it was found that consumers can’t really tell the difference between a cork and a screwcap wine. However, when asked to choose the best between the two bottles of wine, while the bottles are revealed, majority chose the wine bottle sealed with a cork. The consumers’ reasoning behind this was the perception of superior quality associated with a cork sealed bottle of wine. The University of Oxford even went as far as making use of brain scanning technology to test how a person’s emotions are affected by the sounds, aromas and sensations associated with opening a bottle of wine sealed with a cork versus cap. The conclusive result was an average rating of 15% higher for cork-sealed wines than the cap-sealed wines.
So is it maybe after all just our brains holding our taste senses captive? But then again, isn’t that the whole point of the human’s multi-sensory capabilities? The unique creak and pop of a wine cork evoke emotions of enjoyment, celebration, relaxation and intimacy. The crack and twist of a screw top doesn’t really do the same, does it? In our humble opinion, the screwcap won’t ever be able to match the sensation experienced with pulling a cork!
So, the modernists will always be able to give you a 1000 reasons why the screw cap is better than the cork (including its ease of opening, I mean really?!) whilst the traditionalists will be able to do the very same thing for the cork. There is thus really no wrong or right answer – it comes down to preference, research confirms that, and we sure know what we prefer. For as long as possible, De Toren would like to retain the romance…