Wine Talk

Snooth User: Tombalina Wines

Screw caps Vs cork

Original post by Tombalina Wines, Sep 12, 2010.

So I'm just wondering......what's everyone's take on the old screw caps vs cork debate....?  How would you best describe the role of each, and overcome perceptual barriers....?

Replies

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Reply by Bobteeter, Sep 13, 2010.

Foxal,As I am only 67, I plan to be around in 40 years and still drinking wine. lol

I think that for the commerical bulk produced wines we are seeing, the screwcap is probably the best way to go, but I still want to see which one is ahead on that bottle they put in my casket. lol

I judged a National Wine Competition at the Oklahoma State Fair last Friday,128 wines from six states, and a couple of those were for avoiding too.  lol 

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Reply by ct deejay, Sep 13, 2010.

Foxall, what I find gratifying is that there are other vocal advocates of screw caps here (SH, napagirl, etc.). I hadn't thought to find any on a site like this.

The logic of maintaining a "tradition" in spite of how detrimental it is, is beyond me. What if the same logic had been applied to other venues? Think about it ... and I really mean that.

What might have happened if people had refused to drive cars when they first were invented, because they prefer the "romance" of riding horses? What if they'd refused to use gas or electric ovens, because they prefer the "romance" of a heaving logs into a wood-fired oven? What if they'd refused to use blenders or food processors because they prefer the "romance" of mortar & pestle?

Go back further in time ... what might have happened if cavemen had refused to light fires because they prefer the "romance" of eating their day's catch raw?

At some point, one must face the fact that some traditions become obsolete in the face of certain innovations. Someday maybe the wine world will get over its irrational attachment to corks.

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Reply by dmcker, Sep 13, 2010.

Come now, aren't we getting a little grandiose? Comparing the use of screw tops over corks to the invention of fire?

I fully expect that screw tops will disappear down the line, a lot more quickly than corks. Aesthetically they suck, and one thing you don't get from corks is cut hands from jagged edges on cheap closures. But that's not why I think they won't be with us all that long. Rather I think that other closures will come in their place. I personally like the idea of glass stoppers, if versions can be efficiently produced that pass the scrutiny of liability lawyers, etc.

I also have the suspicion that there'l come a point when discovery will be made that the coatings on the inside of the top that may come in contact with the wine are quesitonable for human health, at best. Ditto for plastic corks (and of course ditto for PET bottles so common these days). Would be interested in the results of longterm study on that....

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Reply by ct deejay, Sep 13, 2010.

"Grandiose"? Maybe, but I successfully made my point, which really is all that matters. And my point is that not all traditions are better than the innovations that come along to replace them. Some are, but some aren't. Judging the difference is something a lot of folks have trouble with.

As for screw caps cutting people ... when I was a kid, all soda bottles had metal screw caps. In all the years I opened them, I never once cut myself on one. Never. I have, however, had more cork disasters than I care to count.

As for the toxic aspects of screw caps, I'll leave that to the environmentalists to complain about and get them banned if that's what they want. When they do, then we'll talk about corks. Until then, screw caps all the way.

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 14, 2010.

Foxall- You bring up a point that I believe is a popular misconception.  Many think that the cork allows air through, thus allowing a long-stored wine to age gracefully.  I used to think this as well, but I have been educated over and over again by winemakers that it is not the cork that allows for that VERY slow oxidation, but rather the head space in the bottle, which is there regardless of the closure.  These respected Napa winemakers also insist that a bottle can age over 20 years in a screwcap.  Of course we don't have the data for that yet (for good wines!), but I know of a few experiementing with it, and they do not notice a difference so far- except for one: they don't have eat the cost on inventory for perfectly good wine with cork taint.

If someone has hardcore, scientific data to the contrary, in support of corks, I would welcome seeing it.

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Reply by Andrew46, Sep 14, 2010.

napagirl,

Not to be contrary...  I have seen the assertion that cork don't allow wine to breath made by credible people.  I have not seen the data that show that exactly "0" oxygen gets past a cork.  Have you seen good science that shows exactly how much air gets past a cork over a year with some mild changes in temp.?

I don't have any strong opinion one way or the other, until I see data.  I generally don't trust other people to do the conclusion drawing for me. 

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 14, 2010.

Andrew,

I think the movement toward putting quality wine into a screwcap bottle is relatively young... similar to a new drug on the market.  The only data people have is what they have so far.. .thus my last point.  However, I have had respected winemakers insist to me that no more air is getting past the cork than gets past the screwcap, and it is the HEAD SPACE that allows for the slow aging. 

But, you are correct in wanting data, and I am a fan of data, so I will go on a search.  I have access to the UC Davis library and will give it a go.

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 14, 2010.

Ok.. here is some data.. a bit old, from 2007.  Will look for more tomorrow on UC intranet.  Basically, the experiment found that all forms of seal worked equally well, and head space was the lever.  I have nothing against a cork, just the TCA that infects it:

http://wineserver.ucdavis.edu/pdf/attachment/152%20bottle%20closures%20and%20CS%20.pdf

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Reply by Andrew46, Sep 14, 2010.

I am most interested in data showing that no air exchange happens from in to out, or out to in as temps. go up and down within a moderate range, say 57f-64f.

I do understand that the amount of headspace is a major factor in the rate of oxidation of wines, along with what the gas in the space consists of.  As in, has the bottle been effectively sparged prior to bottling or not.

I have seen a thread elsewhere where winemakers were talking about the different prep needed to get wine ready to bottle with caps vs corks.  Particulaly lower SO2s and making sure that the wine was not reductive as it went in.  It lead me to believe that they believe that the cap prevents exchange of air.  These are people who actually use both types of closures, not writers.  Now, they could be working with wrong data, to be sure, but it did make me think that they believe that the cork allowed air X and not the cap.  I will look for the ref if and post if I find it.

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Reply by Andrew46, Sep 14, 2010.

I was posting and did not see your post.  Now I do.

I notice that the study does not address changes in temp. that would pull/push air in and out.  They don't really give the method of the the study, just partial conclusions.  For example, here on SO2 they say:

"• 2) SO2. By 24 hours following bottling, the bottles with the screwcap and the largest headspace (SC64)
already showed the lowest levels of both free and total SO2 (3 mg/l lower than the other wines). This
difference was accentuated with time. On the opposite extreme, the bottles that best preserved both free
and total SO2 were those with the screwcap and the smallest headspace (SC4). The bottles with
screwcaps and intermediate headspace (SC16), as well as those with natural corks or synthetic corks, had
intermediate SO2 levels. Additionally, the large amount of SO2 lost as storage time increased suggested to
the authors that the mechanism involved was not only a combination of SO2 with O2 in the headspace, but
SO2 reacting  with phenolic compounds in the wine as well."

As I read this, I don't see a direct comparison of bottles with cork and caps with THE SAME HEADSPACE.  Without that comparison, on might be able to conclude that headspace variations have more effect than the type of closure, but one can not conclude that the closure makes no difference at all.  That would require a direct comparison.

If you read the whole study, it is rather inconclusive.  It does find more reduced aromas in the low headspace cap wines, but apparently no effort was made to compare them directly equally low headspace cork closed wines.  If it was, it was not reported in what was posted.

Nice work finding it so quickly though.

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 14, 2010.

Andrew- tooo early to tell at this point. It really is- I cannot say with 100% certainty that 20+yr old reds that are being aged will do as well with a screwcap.  And guess what?  Even the experts cannot say that- but they can't say it won't, either.  However, just for this second, in talking about CA wines, it is pretty accepted that most are drunk pretty quickly after purchase.  And even those who choose to hold some reds from CA, most will be found ready at 7-10 yrs, vs. the longer time for some European wines. 

In a totally serious mode here, I REALLY want to reiterate my position that the amount of corked wine returned/reported is UNDER ESTIMATED/UNDER REPORTED.  I MEAN it when I say I have BEEN in tasting rooms, where they have been pouring from a bottle for several hours, and I taste it... oh boy, it's corked. The TASTING ROOM personnel didn't even know it, let alone the many people who tasted before.  NO ONE knew to speak up and say the wine was corked, or even that it "tasted funny".  It is a HUGE problem out here in CA where many people drink wine and truly think that mustiness is part of the wine drinking experience... YUCK!!!!!  What a bad rap.  And to be fair, many wineries, in this economy, are buying cheap corks.

I am thinking of trying to contact the scientist turned winemaker in the article below to discuss this- I really like what this article has to say:

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Screw+caps+uncork+debate+over+quality,+image-a087136668

 

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Sep 14, 2010.

I have to say that logic suggests that headspace would be the key factor given the airflow is likely to be only minimal partiularly at ideal cellaring temperatures, but I have seen one study that suggests that airflow can result of imperfections in the glass.

D - Screw caps are not pretty but there is no tca and studies so far show no other issues.  As I said Yalumba have rieslings which are now well over 30 years under screw cap and are at least the equal to the same wine under cork and if any wine will show any fault with age it will be Riesling.  But I agree innovation will result in progress and I am sure that great minds of this world will produce better closures over time.

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Reply by Andrew46, Sep 14, 2010.

Stephen,

Why would you say "As I said Yalumba have rieslings which are now well over 30 years under screw cap and are at least the equal to the same wine under cork and if any wine will show any fault with age it will be Riesling."

I'd think that too much air would more likely be a problem with a white over time and too little could be a problem with certain Reds.  This is due to the significant antioxidant powers in tannin.  I taste more young red wine that have off aroma in a reductive sense than whites. One of these reductive reds would be the wine I'd need to see over time. But I'd like to see a lab do it, in addition to a taster, so we can see what the chemical differences are

To me, the real question is not if caps can be used on good wines.  It is: Do they have a different charicteristics in terms of how the wine ages, and if so, what are those differences?  Before it can be rightly claimed that caps are better, these difference, if there are any, need to be understood.  For now, it seems clear that caps are fine with white wines, particularly ones that rely on fragile aromas.  Also for reds that are ready to drink.  TCA is a serious issue, but I'd like to see real data on how common it is with new cork products like Twin Tops etc.

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Sep 14, 2010.

Andrew -

my point was too demonstrate that at a tasting with a number of experienced winemakers and judges it was agreed that the aged Rieslings under screw cap were at least as good as the best under cork and that all things being equal very few if any of the rieslings had found problems, however a number under cork were either TCA effected or had ramdomly oxidised [although a very small number under screw cap had shown some ro]

Based on what I have tasted and discussions with a large number of winemakers the general view is that red wine will age slower under screw cap which is consistent with your view.  The other characteristic we have seen with wine under screw cap v cork is that cork in general disintegrates and leaks far more than screw cap, now whether screw cap after 40-50+ years has issues, time will tell.

Cork producers must find a way to eliminate TCA, failure rates of 2-10+% is unacceptable in any product.  At least Screw cap faults can and should be detected at time of packaging.  TCA as far as I know can't.

Screw caps are certainly the way to go for ready to drink wines and so far I have seen no valid data supporting problems with Screw Cap.

I just want to eliminate TCA as a factor, it craps me off as it did Friday with a 95 d'Yquem.  And if they can't get corks without TCA then who can!!!

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Reply by Andrew46, Sep 14, 2010.

Two things:

I don't really have a solid view on this.  Only hints and a keen interest in better data.

The rate of TCA taint is dropping, I believe, (no hard data as of yet) due to improved robotic cork "sniffers" that do a much better job of screening cork for TCA that humans used to do.  Could this be the issue with you 95?  I think they can get good corks now and studies will show that the high quality corks in use now will show lower failure rates than the corks of the past.  Don't think those cork makers are ready to give up on this.

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Reply by ilovevultures, Sep 14, 2010.

Screw-cap for me. It's a no brainer.

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Reply by Tombalina Wines, Sep 14, 2010.

I have to agree with the majority that screw caps are definitely the way forward, and their benefits far outweigh those of corks (imho).  But....how do you convince a staunch traditionalist that screws aren't only for the cheap and nasty?  And how do you convince high end restauranteurs that they should serve screw tops in their establishment?  Or should corks still be used for the speciality flagship wines and those meant for serious collectors....?  I just don't know.....

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 14, 2010.

What's funny here is that so many "ardent oenophiles" are supporting the screw cap so, well, ardently, which is the opposite of what some would have thought.  I do wonder about the liner under the metal cap, but that is a perfect place for a light ceramic coating, perhaps with a thin layer of flexible plastic behind it to make the seal sure.  I'll get my father, a ceramic engineer, on it right away. Of course, you can avoid direct contact between the wine and the liner by storing your wine upright, which is what you cannot do with the cork.  There could be off-gassing from the plastics even then, but NG is our chemist, so I leave that to her. I proposed the issue of the exchange of air imporoving wine when a cork is used, but was myself skeptical of the idea.  Frankly, I cannnot see how that was engineered into aging wine in the bottle, and I said that I thought the issue was head space to begin with.  (Ullage, if you prefer.)  With no cork projecting into the bottle, there should be a slightly larger headspace to begin with.  Corks, as I said, are inherently unpredictable, so promoting them for aging seems like promoting variability in the result of aging for otherwise identical bottles.  

TCA taint is dropping, and probably never was as huge a problem as some folks seem to think.  (Robots to sniff corks... technology to protect an ancient way.  Think about it. Might as well put engines on horses. Okay, I kid.) Other folks get lucky and rarely get a corked bottle, as we have seen.  But it's significant enough, and the other problems that corks have long term, that it should suggest that superb wines meant for aging (and priced accordingly) are the best candidates to get rid of the cork.

Corks were a discovery based on what worked at the time.  Better than hard woods or oddly shaped rocks.  But we don't store much wine in clay amphoras.  Sayonara, cork.  Buy more port and douro to help Portugal transition the economy.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 14, 2010.

Tombalina, you certainly uncorked a controversy.  Opening the wine at the table has long been, like the handshake, a way of overcoming distrust.  In France, the waiters used to get a couple francs for the cork  from the winery (read Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, first half), so they had an incentive not to pour swill from a keg into the bottle before bringing it to the table and never left the cork on the table.  You could open it away from the table.  You could serve higher end BTG wines from screw caps to start things down the road.  Or just explain to folks who ask. But a LOT of wineries--PlumpJack in California and huge numbers in Austalia--have made the switch.  Not just at the cheap end.  There will always be Artemis and Silver Oak (favorite whipping boys around here) for the folks who want to spend a lot, sniff a cork, and never learn a thing.  But look at the reaction here--from cheapskates like me to connoisseurs like SH, we are out in force for the screw cap.

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Reply by napagirl68, Sep 14, 2010.

One thing about TCA- some people are more sensitive to its smell and taste.  I am one of those, unfortunately, I guess.  But I have had a LOT of tainted wine in the last few years, my last bottle in May 2010.  I am hoping that that for winemakers that would like to keep using cork, there are the improvements Andrew spoke of.

Andrew, you made some good points. And Foxall too.  I am not sure what they are lining the caps with.. I assume food-grade plastic similar to the lining of food cans.  Hopefully BPA-free :-)  And I, at least, don't really know for sure what interaction or chemistry occurs between cork and wine, and if that chemistry is even discernable at that level to the taster. 

Personally, I do not see the cork going away.  There is just too much history.  I can also see how a winemaker, who makes lovely wines and never had a TCA cork problem, might want to think twice about screwing with a winning process.

Just wondered... what about irradiating corks like they do with food, dog food, etc.  Shouldn't that kill the spores?  Will have to do some more research. ...



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