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....?

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 17, 2010.

SH apologized for going back to the topic! What has this site become? A book club for the licentious?

Seriously, this suggests that the corking issue might even be due to pesticides.  Organic corks... but weren't there infected corks before pesticides?  Classic example of the law of unintended consequences.

jtorrisi, I also have lots of bourbon in my house with fancy prices, although none at $200, and lots of it is under a cork now.  Doesn't change my opinion that screw caps are the way to go, as I suspect the cork in a bottle of bourbon is a marketing gimmick.  Another consideration is that, unless you are Captain Haddock (my kids are big TinTin fans), you probably don't finish a bottle of scotch at one sitting.

NG, if you don't have your nose in those scandalous books, would you weigh in on the chemistry of scotch in relation to TCA: is it possible also that the higher proof in the whiskey bottle creates an antimicrobial effect in the head space?  Of course, scotch is stored upright so it doesn't have contact with the stopper as a rule.  Same would be true if we went to screw caps on wine. Or would everyone prefer that this thread become a discussion of the raunchy literature of our youth, which now looks rather tame?

Reply by Constance Chamberlain, Sep 17, 2010.

I'm going to chime in here.... a bit late to the party and I'm sure I'll repeat ideas already stated, but I wanted to weigh in my two cents.

I work with the Austrian Wine Marketing Board and have worked with Jacob's Creek in the past and both areas of the world just so happen to love screw caps.

I must admit that before I really got into the wine business I looked at screw caps as a way to enclose "cheap" wines. Never did I stop to examine their value as a way of preserving crisp, white wines or a way or elimainating other problems that may arise from using either a traditional cork enclosure or a synthetic cork enclosure.

While I am still on the fence about reds under screw cap because no matter the age they are meant to be drunk at I can't get past the fact I think red's generally need to breathe.. but regardless for whites I think a screw cap is 100 time better. For one, they keep the wine crisper and cleaner for longer and provide a more assured taste for the wine - wines kept under cork can begin to turn after as short of time frame as a year. Perhaps for some Rieslings we are losing out on the aging potential of the grape - but whites seem to take on an oxidative quality much faster than reds do.

To those who things a screw cap is less romantic/ruins the mood for wine drinkers - I must wholly disagree with this. To a point, I suppose it's less romantic to have a sommelier unscrew a cap in front of my rather than uncork a bottle, but at the same time I can also be more assured this wine will be fresh and crisp - where as otherwise I might run the risk of giving it a quick taste, not analyzing it as I should and later realizing there is a flaw. Apart from the restaurant atmosphere, screw caps just make more sense - you buy a bottle for a picnic... if you have a cork and forgot the cork screw, you are... screwed. Screw cap eliminates the need for this potentially difficult problem.

The US has been one of the last markets to embrace this concept. In fact, after spending some time in a wine region in Oregon, it was blatently obvious these winemakers did not have any intention of switching to screw cap any time soon. However, with the influence screw cap is now placing on all regions of world, I imagine it is only a matter of time before we catch on.

Reply by napagirl68, Sep 17, 2010.

Well... biology is not my current field-nanotech/semiconductor is.  if you ask me about silicon, I can answer, but not the mold spore realm.  Sooo, I emailed a scientist who has done actual research on this matter, Dr. Christian Butzke.  He was very kind to get back to me with some info, which I am paraphrasing, not quoting.  He said some interesting things.. one of his grad students was involved in the cork vs. screwcap comparison in the ~$150 Plumpjack wine and found no difference.  He also mentioned that there really isn't money designated for university research in the US on this subject, and the winemakers/ cork suppliers both blame each other.  He also mentioned that most people are not super sensitive to TCA, so it is of little consequence to them.  He gave a link of a book he co-authored, that is meant to educate those in the wine field about cork properties:

He also attached an Italian research paper called "The Volitile Components of Cork Used for Production of Wine Stoppers".  I don't know how to attach PDFs here.. if someone tells me how, I will post it.  Interesting read.


Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 17, 2010.

Nice work, NG. Of course the evidence is inconclusive since Plumpjack is plainly not a large enough universe to constitute a valid sample.  The Snooth Tasting Team needs to be formed.  SH will manage the southern hemisphere and I will reluctantly take on the massive responsibilities and burdens of the northern.  We'll need a few members to go taste testing in Napa, Barossa Valley, Bordeaux, the Rhone, Piedmont, Burgundy, Rioja... a lot of travel, so we'll need to be booked in lovely but of course modest villas at the winemakers' expense.  Any takers? 

Reply by dmcker, Sep 17, 2010.

I'm swapping Southern France and Northern Italy with Japan--anybody inexperienced but curious about good Sake? I'll be happy to provide pointers before I get on the plane for Milan. Unless a sidestudy on Sake stoppers earns me the points for a second study in South America or better yet the Antipodes. I might settle for that. P.S. In one of my earlier business incarnations I was very seriously involved in market research in highly technical fields ....  ;-)

And vinocc, I age a lot of my whites (depending on who's making them, of course). Particularly riesling, chardonnay, chenin blanc, and semillon/SB blends and good champagne or related sparkling (chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier blends).


NG, I'll PM you my email alias for the PDF file.

Reply by napagirl68, Sep 18, 2010.

Here is a link for the abstract of the paper i previously mentioned: Volatile Components of Cork used for Production of Wine Stoppers-

I also found another very interesting abstract:

Effects of electron beam irradiation on cork volatile compounds by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry

If I log in at work, I can read the articles for free, otherwise I think you have to have a membership to read the whole paper.  The irradiation concept intrigues me...


Reply by zufrieden, Sep 18, 2010.

One of the liveliest and intellectually satisfying threads in a long while. And I welcome the long digressions as this is simply reflective of normal, engaging conversations and repartee. 

I suppose the Lazarus-like resurrection of this topic of wine closure is a by-product of the ever changing make-up of this particular little wine club, but I should point out to you who have expended such dazzling energy on the subject that there have been more than a few threads on this subject.  

I feel I have said as much as I can say already in past postings elsewhere, but suffice it to say (in summary, perhaps) that there is no evidence that corks have any superiority over screw-caps or glass - even in the sacred area of red wine aging.  The debate shall continue, but aging is far more complex - biochemically speaking - than mere oxidization which, incidentally, can very quickly become a fault.  That's why we lay the bottles on their sides in the first place - to keep that nasty oxygen out; otherwise logic would suggest we keep the bottle upright and increase the likelihood of more air invading the bottle thereby aging the wine more rapidly allowing consumption by us and rather than our descendants...

I claim that there is sufficient chemical action taking place in the bottle after closure to ensure aging in those wines intended for the cellar in the first place - such as Classified Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy. Ergo, the purpose of good closure is to preserve the wine and let it live out a life in the bottle until prime of life is achieved.

It is, after all, a living thing of sorts. QED, I say, until new evidence arrives.

Reply by jamessulis, Oct 31, 2010.

I love the corks in wine but am savvy enough to realize that the cork may become a dinosaur within the next 5 years. The screw cap is the better way to go because you don't have to worry about the cork being bad, being sealed incorrectly and storing the wine on it's side to keep the cork wet.  I love to hear the "POP", I save the corks for nostalgia as a favorite wine is consumed for a special event but alas I think the cork is history. The bright side is that the wine rack builders can create an entirely new way to showcase your wines. Vertical racks which would also be good for the economy and stimulate new designs and new jobs. One these days the cork will be obsolete like cassette tapes, 8 track players, and the mini discs that all computers used to have.

Lefty - The Great Pacific Northwest

Reply by GregT, Nov 1, 2010.

Intentionally I didn't chime in on this thread but after all these posts there are some points that I didn't see.  First, TCA isn't only found in corks.  There are other sources of it in wineries, just like there are other sources of yeasts, bacteria, etc.  Based only on anecdotal experience, I can say that the level of TCA taint is going down, but I'd like to see some numbers.  Wines from the 1990s show much more, in my limited experience, than wines from the 2000s, but we'll have to see, won't we.

The cork industry was in denial about the problem for a long time, claiming it didn't exist and then claiming it didn't come from corks.  It was only after people started seriously searching for alternatives that the cork industry woke up.  THeir first reaction was political, and in Portugal and Spain they had laws passed mandating the use of cork.  Second act was marketing and they launched a campaign talking about how environmentally friendly cork was, as a renewable resource that can be harvested, and how dependent some people were on jobs in the industry, and how keeping cork viable kept those old trees alive as needed resources.  All BS because cork is used for engine gaskets, bulletin boards, flooring, etc., probably more than wine.  Third thing they did was actually address the problem and so there have been advances made.

All that said, the cork is still an inadequate closure for many reasons. Don't forget, while people have been using cork for centuries, it was only when manufacturing progressed to the point that standard size bottles could be made that it finally became possible to make standard size corks in another country and ship them over.  Manufacturing tolerances have improved and we can get better-fitting corks today than we ever could.

But it's a "technology" from an era that is passed and in winemaking today, we use modern technology for everything else except the cork closure.  No matter how "traditional" or "natural" or whatever someone wants to claim his wine is, we use refrigeration, plastic containers, automated bottling lines, sterile equipment, manufactured hoses and pipes, temperature controls at all stages, selected yeasts if desired, modern clones and rootstocks, and all kinds of other things that we now understand better than ever.  So unless someone is making dirty wine and pouring it into bottles by hand and hammering in the corks himself, it's absurd to use an outdated closure.  For everything else, there is science and understanding but suddenly we freeze and draw the line at corks?  WTF kind of thinking is that?

As to the transfer of air - interesting question and not fully resolved.  The headspace isn't the issue, as I may have mentioned before,  because people can put an intert gas into the bottle.  The transference is a bogus issue as far as I'm concerned, because nobody ever wants to talk about whether it's the same with or w/out a capsule, wax, mold, or whatever else may be on the cork.  Ther is absolutely no way at all to predict what will happen with any given cork. The only thing you can do is come up with a probability, because each cork is different.  THey're not true manufactured products so they're not built to spec.  If indeed air is necessary, and I think it is NOT, then we can certainly make a closure with the correct porosity.

But air transfer thru the seal is not really what we want. The oxygen that reacts with the wine is generally the oxygen that's already mixed in with the wine from bottling, etc.

There have been studies all over regarding screw caps.  The biggest problem seems to be reduction, which should be easily solved by reducing sulfur addition.  In fact, that has the salutory effect of making the wine more "natural", which should please the natural wine Taliban, because their definition of natural is generally  use of "indigenous" yeast and no sulfur.

The studies I've seen from Bordeaux indicate that the best corks are those that allow no air transmission.  But the range varies widely from one cork to another. THere is in fact some transmission through many corks, which is why we find ullage in older wines, although that may also have to do with faulty corks that don't fit well.  But if wine leaks out, something has to go in, and that's air.  

Plastic corks are the worst actually. They don't expand properly like cork does and they don't fit as well, surprisingly. THey are cheap though, and adequate for short term use.

Screw caps are great but they do have one problem that nobody has mentioned - they're fragile.  They can be dented by being knocked around and that compromises the seal.  It's why, for me, glass stoppers are the best solution, at least until we come up with something better.

BTW Foxall, it's not all that bad to sniff a cork.  I'm not sure why people think so - sometimes you actually get information from that.  I've got a couple of good friends who are sommeliers and who swear by it.  So a few of us have a little experiment going for the next year or two to see if we gather any useful info from sniffing the corks as we open bottles. It should be a sample of a few thousand bottles from all over, so we'll have to find out.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 1, 2010.

Good points, Greg. To one of them, it was probably in an Article thread, and thus likely not searchable, but I had a go about cork sniffing being useful and certainly OK agains a horde who were claiming it's gauche and meaningless.

Regarding screwtops, I've also had finger cuts, from manufactures not within tolerances (I assume, anyway), and that is a true turnoff. As I've mentioned elsewhere, since I grew up at a time when screwtops were only on Thunderbird, Ripple and their ilk, usually found on the front lawn of a nieghbor at the bottom of the street, empty in a brown bag, on the way to school in the morning, I still have the vestiges of a psychological nosetilt at the technology. Finger cuts only add to the 'cheap' fealing. Moreover, I have concerns about the coatings inside the cap and sincerely doubt anyone's studied how contact with wine affects things over time.

I've previously posted in this Forum that I think glass closures are the way to go, but I haven't researched recent trends, current issues of manufacturing or legality, etc. regarding them, and my knowledge is a few years old. Want to start a thread on glass closures and see what we come up with?

Reply by GregT, Nov 1, 2010.

Sure.  FYI - I took a bottle of some sparking wine from Jura to a dinner a couple months ago.  It was bottled w a crown cap and I couldn't resist.  THe dinner was at a crowded Chinese restaurant that has no corkage fee.  Anyhow, there were 10 of us or so sitting around a table and the place was noisy as usual.  One guy opens the wine and there was a sound like a gunshot.  A few screams and the entire room went dead silent. Imagine our surprise. 

THe guy had this look on his face like he really did get shot.  Turns out the top came off with such force it almost took his finger off.  As it was, he was bruised and bleeding.  So I'm thinking for sparkling wine, the cork may still be the best way to go, just for safety reasons.  A glass or metal cap may be a liability case waiting to be filed.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 1, 2010.

Well in Tokyo people would have turned askance, but nobody would've been diving for the floor or dialing 911. Bet that was a bit of a Zen moment. For sure on sparkling nothing harder than a cork stopper, in my mind. Enough bullets flying around without something harder shooting from sparkling bottlenecks. ;-)

So start that thread, and I'll promise to do what research I can on glass stoppers (for still wines), so I can contribute intelligently....

Reply by Tombalina Wines, Nov 2, 2010.

Very very interesting read everyone, thank's going to be interesting what the future holds.....

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