Wines can be neatly split into two clear camps: good wine, and not so good wine. It’s really as simple as that, isn’t it? Yet we all know someone who will turn their nose up at a bottle sealed with a screw-cap, no matter how commonplace or ubiquitous they might be. It’s just another of those fussy and slightly annoying details that wine buffs and so-called experts like to go on and on about, forever claiming that screw-topped wine will never be able to compete with bottles stoppered with a real cork.
In some places - Europe, we’re looking at you - bringing a screw-cap bottle of wine to a party is tantamount to social exclusion, and synonymous with being a total wine noob. In other countries, most notably Australia and New Zealand, screw caps are becoming the norm, and have been roundly embraced by the wine-drinking community.
This begs the question: does it really make a difference? If not, why do so many people obsess over how their wine bottles are sealed?
Frankly, the second question is a lot easier to answer than the first one. After all, being a stickler for fine detail is just part and parcel of the wine community, and wine lovers will always enjoy fussing over every tiny detail (this is why, for example, most wine labels are utterly indecipherable for the vast majority of us without a profound knowledge of viticulture).
It really comes down to two key factors, which are, in themselves, interchangeable and inseparable: tradition, and old-fashioned snobbery. We could write dozens of articles on how snobbery and tradition in the wine world have given rise to all sorts of problems, from outright vandalism and terrorist activity in Languedoc Roussillon to restrictive wine laws and regulations holding winemakers back from making the kind of wines that they want to produce.
However, corks and screw-caps, and the endless battle between the two, is an interesting case in point, and one which tells us lots about the current state of the wine industry, and where it’s likely to go in the future. Love them or hate them, screw caps are here to stay… and they’re only going to become more and more commonplace.
Let’s take a look, then, at why screw-caps and fake corks are worth celebrating rather than criticizing, and consider why so many - even high-end - wineries are starting to use them more liberally.
Screw-Caps Are More Affordable Than Corks
This is true in every sense of the word. Natural cork is becoming more and more expensive as a resource with every passing year, and it isn’t difficult to understand why: the land on which it is grown increases with value, the labor costs are huge, and it can only be produced in certain climates and certain locations. No wonder so many wineries are considering cheaper alternatives which, for the most part, do exactly the same thing.
Screw-Caps Prevent Cork Taint
Cork taint is the layman’s term for TCA, a chemical compound caused by wild fungi attacking the winemaking products. Cork taint is commonplace, is found exclusively in corked bottles of wine, and makes the wine taste utterly disgusting (like old cardboard or wet dog… yummy!). It’s completely harmless to your health if you take a sip of corked wine, but believe us, you’ll want to throw the rest of the bottle away.
Cork taint used to be a much greater problem than it is today, but conservative estimates claim that around 5-10% of cork-stoppered wines are affected. That’s a lot, especially when you consider that 0% of screw-capped wines have the same problem!
You Can Still Age Wine in Screw-Capped Bottles
It was long-since believed that you can only bottle-age wine in bottles which are stopped with a cork, as cork has just the right amount of porousness to allow in the minute quantities of oxygen for slow oxidation. However, many contemporary wineries are demonstrating that screw-capped wines, if stored correctly, will also age in ways highly similar to corked wines. Whether this is really the case over a long period of time - 20 years or more - still remains to be seen, as the studies are relatively new. However, if it does turn out that screw-caps allow for bottle aging, well, the age of the cork might just be over.
Screw-Caps Offer Greater Precision Than Corks
The main argument in favor of using natural cork was always about the fact they allow the wine to gently, slowly breathe at just the right level to gradually soften the natural tannins in the wine, and that they allow the wine to bottle-age gracefully.
Modern technology has allowed for the production of screw-capped wines which feature meticulously calculated levels of oxygen ingress across the years. The result? Beautifully aged bottled wines over the course of 4-5 years, at least. The irony is that while corks do allow for aging, they’re hugely unreliable and subject to atmospheric changes. Cork shrinks and expands, swells up if wet, and shrivels if dry. As such, the level of breathing is massively variable over long periods of time.
Screw-Caps Are Easy to Open
It’s a basic point to make… but it’s oh-so-true! We’ve all been there - taking a bottle of wine out on a picnic, and discovering that we’ve forgotten the corkscrew, and then desperately looking up YouTube videos of how to whack open a bottle of wine with sticks, shoes, and car keys, etc.
What’s more, what wine lover hasn’t had their heartbroken by a cork breaking in half when you’re trying to open a bottle? It’s devastating and dismaying… and yet this never, ever happens with a screw-cap, which requires nothing more than a twist of the wrist.
Screw-Caps Can Be Easily Re-Sealed
Again, another basic point, but one which is often overlooked. Resealing wine is a tricky business - nobody enjoys trying to shove a cork back into the neck of the bottle. Screw-caps can be made air-tight once again after opening with the greatest of ease and allow you to keep your wine fresh and tasting great for a day or three after opening.
So, there you have it - a handful of points in praise of the humble screw-cap! No matter your opinion on this contentious point (and really, we do understand that there’s something beautifully ceremonial about popping a cork), it’s impossible to argue that screw-caps are a bad thing for the wine industry. We’re all about innovation here at BrüMate, which is why we’re delighted to offer our beautiful and stylish stemless wine glasses, perfect for picnics, days out, and lounging around with your favorite bottle. Come take a look, and find your perfect wine accessories today!