Closures - The Screw Cap Versus Cork Debate

Are you a snobbish, die-hard cork aficionado? Or do you enjoy the fast, no-fuss accessibility of a screw-capped bottle? Is the type of closure a deciding factor when choosing a wine, with the base assumption being that “cork equals quality”?

At its simplest, the closure on a wine bottle must keep the wine in and the oxygen out. Tradition, regulations, cost, wine style and consumer preference all influence the closure selection. Here are some facts to consider.

Put a cork in it:
• No other solution combines the inert nature of cork, its impermeability, flexibility, sealing capacity and resilience.
• It is also biodegradable, 100% recyclable, and cork forests promote biodiversity.
• Cork allows just enough air into the bottle, so that the wine will age well but not enough that it will oxidize.
• Most important, natural cork has proven to be eminently suitable for long-term wine aging.
• The disadvantages would be that it is quite costly, is seen as a limited natural resource, and can offer variable quality.
• It’s greatest drawback is its susceptibility to TCA taint, a compound that contaminates the cork, adding a musty flavour to the wine (think soggy wet cardboard), the discovery of which is often met with a wail of ‘It’s corked!’.
• Some perceived economy brands such as Alexanderfontein, the Just range and most natural sweet wines, such as Four Cousins, Cellar Cask and Johannisberger, all still utilize cork for their closure of choice. As do all the 1,5 litre magnum bottles stocked at Checkers. Magnums slow the aging process, since they have twice as much wine to about the same amount of oxygen.

Or just screw it:
• An important advantage of screwtops is consistency, as it preserves the aromatic freshness and youthfulness of a wine.
• Screw caps are more affordable, easy to open and close, store and ship.
• Aluminium is widely available and, through recycling, saves energy – about 75% of the aluminium ever produced is still in use today.
• Disadvantages include its limited breathing capacity for cellar aging, and whilst recyclable, it isn’t biodegradable.
• Screw caps have an original association with cheaper wines which is fast being overcome.
• They continue to grow in popularity with the market share of aluminium closure production of wine in South Africa at just over 60%. Several premium brands, such as De Grendel, Tokara and La Motte have embraced the screw-cap closure across their range, including red wines. This “New World” preference is evident in the Wines of the World ranges from New Zealand, Australia and USA, all being sealed under screw cap!

So, are the days for natural cork numbered? Absolutely not! The upside has been the accelerated research and improvement by cork companies. The quality of natural cork closures has never been better. Compared to five years ago, there has been a huge reduction in the number of cork-tainted wines. One thing we can agree on, is there will never be universal accord on the best closure for a bottle of wine. But with the quality of closures improving across the board, the unpleasant surprise of encountering a corked or spoiled wine is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. So, let’s cheers to that!