January 2007

Cork vs. Screw Cap - The Debate Continues

Author: Krissy Cantelupe

In the wine world, there is much debate on how a bottle of wine should be sealed. Should a cork fill the spot, or would a twist-off make the wine last longer? This is a hotly debated subject among winemakers, critics and consumers. Opinions vary.

Statistically speaking, one out of twelve bottles in a case of wine will be corked. This is one of the main reasons why a twist-off might be a smarter choice. A corked wine often tastes moldy or musty, or if slightly corked, dull or flat. Many consumers feel this is money down the drain and would prefer a twist-off, lessening the likelihood of a bad bottle.

Consistency of flavor is another reason some wine enthusiasts prefer the twist-off. Wines sealed with a cork often vary in flavor. For example, in a tasting of three bottles of the same vintage, there will be differences among the bottles. (Try this at home!) Sometimes one will be brilliant and the next will have far less flavor. The twist-off prevents retailers and restaurants from selling or serving bad bottles and having to deal with returns. Without the chance of the cork drying out and crumbling, the bottles are thought to age better.

Australia and New Zealand are beginning to bottle more with the twist-off, helping prevent bad bottles during shipping. In the U.S., PlumpJack was the first to bottle an expensive wine in a twist-off with nice results. Argyle in Oregon is also having success with the twist-off.

Now consider the other side of the coin—or cap. Many people feel there is nothing better than the resounding pop of the cork when opening a bottle of wine. Some say it makes them feel happy, content or even celebratory. The cork is also an important part of the tableside presentation in a restaurant. The server presents the bottle and then makes a huge deal of uncorking the wine. Some say this experience is lost with the twist-off, since no tool is needed. Still others say that the cork is considered “romantic,” especially if a wine is a late vintage or something special saved for a certain occasion.

Some winemakers argue that cork is needed during the wine’s aging process. If a twist-off or synthetic cork is placed on a bottle immediately, then absolutely no air is allowed to enter the bottle during aging. Many winemakers believe that a little oxidation improves the wine.

For some wine drinkers, the cork preference is strictly a misconception, based on past history or experience. Many people associate the twist-off with the cheap jug wines of the ’60s and ’70s when three- and four-liter “big bottles” were consumed, thus giving twist-offs a bad name.

Before you form a definite opinion, try this experiment: Purchase two bottles of wine around the same price range, one with a cork and one with a twist-off cap. Make sure that the two bottles are from the same grape varietal and the same region. If you are using red wine, open both bottles the same day, taste and come back to it frequently for the next couple of days to see if there is a change. If you are using white wine, refrigerate the bottles and do the same thing. Cork or screwcap? Let your taste buds be your guide.

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