Recently, my esteemed colleague Rusty Sly published an article expressing his preference for the use of corks over screwcap closures for wine bottles. In the interest of presenting another viewpoint, I would like to say that my own preference is firmly on the side of twist-offs. Although admittedly my own household is split on this issue, as my wife Karen prefers the romance and tradition of corks.
In no way am I criticizing Rusty’s argument. (There is no way I can even address his presentation of the chemical issues — he’s the scientist, not I!)
But, with regard to the issue of the need for cork closures for long-term aging of a decade or more for fine wines, my understanding is that the vast majority of wines aren’t aged for any great length of time, or even have the structure to be aged. And I know for me personally, aging a wine beyond seven years is the exception rather than the rule. So, why should this small minority drive the industry?
I agree with Rusty that corks are not the only cause of TCA contamination, but I expect they are the major contributor. And corks can have other issues as well, such as breakage and crumbling. And twist-offs are just so darn convenient.
In addition, I think we have a duty [maybe even a sacred one?] to encourage people to drink wine, including bringing new wine drinkers into the fold. I wonder how many newbies have tried a wine, found it tasted “off” and not realized it was “corked”, and then just thought they didn’t like that wine, winery or even wine in general.
All that being said, I am really no expert on this subject except for my own experience. So, I turned to my friend Stillman Brown, owner/winemaker of Stillman Wines and Zeppelin Winery (www.zeppelinwinery.com). This is what he had to say:
“The idea that corks should ‘breathe’ is a canard; it’s not controllable and the maturation of wine in the bottle is anaerobic; this is sound theory, and has been shown in French and Australian experiments with corks and screwcaps.
Corks have physical defects, and can dry out in low humidity storage conditions.
The only problem with screwcaps is the physical vulnerability of the seal, which is a very small area on the top of the bottle; this can be simply remedied by improved bottle and screwcap design.
Agglomerate corks that are made from fine cork particles flushed with supercritical CO2 and then fused with food grade plastic, and neutral food grade plastic corks, are also superior to ‘natural’ i.e. cut single piece corks; the issues of pressure and rebound are easily solved.
If you want more oxygen in a wine, leave it in the barrel longer or micro-ox it, but don’t rely on a little piece of cork to leak the ‘correct’ amount of oxygen over the course of years.
Blaming reductive aromas on the perfect seal of the screwcap is a cover for imperfect winemaking, not to say that sulfur compounds are perfectly predictable.
I have been hearing the cork industry’s claims and promises for almost thirty years now, and their time should have been up before that. But screwcaps are for bums, right?”
So, I guess there is room for debate. What’s your preference?
Michael Perlis has been pursuing his passion for wine for more than 25 years. He has had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show him the way, as well as a wonderful wife who encourages him and shares his interest. After a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as he possibly could, he had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Now, as Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101, he does his best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers. (2013 Update: Eve and Michael announced Eve Wine 101 Consulting. Info is here: http://evewine101.com/press-releases/)