Screw, Cork or Rubber: Corks Demystified

06 May

There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting down to a warm, copious repast and hearing the familiar “pop” as you open a bottle of wine.

But if more wineries have their way, you may soon be hearing the sound of a screw top being unfastened. Or, that familiar corky top may be replaced with a rubber one.

Why the change? For one, cork is a natural material and thus subject to nature’s inconsistencies. Some cork can taint the wine — up to 5 or 8 percent of wine is thought to have cork taint — so by eliminating this factor, you can keep the wine from spoiling. (Learn about how to detect cork-tainted wine in this post).

Plus, screw tops can prevent air– and thus oxygen — from seeping into wine. Exposure to air oxidizes the wine; that’s why wine that has been opened for days doesn’t taste quite as good. But a little, teeny bit of air is good, argue some wine experts, and that can help the wine age. So for wines that you’re going to store for years, maybe decades, a cork top is the way to go.

Finally, there’s the cost factor. Really nice corks (yes, there is a huge quality difference between cheap corks and expensive corks, which can run almost $1 each) are made from the best quality cork wood and have small holes that let as little air in as possible. Using cheaper corks can be OK, but for cheaper wines, a screw cap works much better and is much cheaper. That being said, there are pricey screw caps out there, too, and you’re starting to see them in nicer wines.

In the hottest new wine regions, screw caps are becoming de rigueur. According to this article at, nearly 90 percent of New Zealand wine comes in a screw cap. Australia’s is reaching 50 percent.
Even so, many wineries, particularly those in France, are not going to give up that cork. Their customers expect to see it and to deny them the pleasure of popping open that bottle would be absolument terrible.

Check out this great article on Appellation America about the screw cap debacle. I think the use of these tops is best summed up by Jason Haas of the Tablas Creek Winery:

“It depends on what we want the evolution of the wine to be. For an aromatic white, or for our Rosé, we like the brightness and freshness that the screw cap closure provides, and believe that the screw cap will have the additional benefit of keeping these wines (which are typically meant to be enjoyed young) tasting youthful longer.”

(photo credit: New Zealand Herald)

1 Comment

Posted by on May 6, 2008 in Wine


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One response to “Screw, Cork or Rubber: Corks Demystified

  1. winewithdinner

    May 7, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    One of the interesting topics in this debate is the potential environmental impact of a mass switch to screw caps:


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