Since mankind started producing wine, we have been looking for ways to preserve this delicate beverage. And over the years, our methods have improved and different tools have been used. We will discuss the pros and the cons of three wine bottle caps used in the industry: the cork, the screw cap and the synthetic cork.
The cork has been used for centuries to preserve wine and has become a traditional part of the wine bottle. Many sees it as a sign of quality in the wine industry. A significant factor in favour of cork is it comes from a sustainable resource (no cork trees are cut to produce them) and are biodegradable.
However, the cork can also ruin the wine: the problem occurs when a wine is said to be “corked” (This means the wine tastes and smells musty). This is due to TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), a substance used to disinfect the cork prior to bottling. The wine quality is thereby obviously deteriorated by its lost of flavor and becomes undrinkable. The number of corked wine bottles from vendors may be significant resulting in a financial losses. If in doubt about the status of a corked wine, let it air out a few minutes and the smell will be more apparent as the smell of cork increases with aeration.
The screw cap is a more recent method that has the advantage ensuring constant quality of the wines and not ruining them. The screw cap seems to provide a result similar to the cork by keeping the flavor and acidity during the ageing process.
However, there’s a debate around the screw cap: some people say the screw cap diminishes the flavor of wine while others say white wine seems more aromatic when closed with a screw cap. One thing they all agree on is the fact that the screw cap doesn’t have the same image symbol of class and nobility as the cork.
A growing number of wine producers are adopting the screw cap. The trend is changing the screw cap image since it’s no longer being associated to ordinary and inexpensive wines.
Finally, the synthetic cork is made of a synthetic plastic derivative. This type of cap also prevents the wine to “corked”. Some are recyclable but not biodegradable (posing an environmental problem). Another major problem is it lets too much air and doesn’t protect the wine from oxidation. This is due to loss of elasticity of the plastic over time. New generation of synthetic cork are being studied to replicate the natural cork structure.
On the positive side, the opening ceremony of the wine bottle with the corkscrew is preserved with the synthetic cork.
From a practical standpoint, it is certain that the screw cap is the big winner. You only need one hand and voila! On the other hand (no pun intended), let’s face it, the screw cap takes away the romance of opening the wine bottle.
01-08-2012 update: Winery abandons screwcap for cork. read more
The debate is not over as the choice between cork, screw cap or synthetic cork is subjective! What’s your favourite wine bottle cap?