Wine lovers are aware of the fact that the most popular ways to seal a bottle of wine are either a cork or a screw cap. However, a lot of people usually come up with a debate about which type of wine is better. Is a corked wine better than a capped wine or vice versa?
Well, the truth is that both types of seals have their advantages and disadvantages.
Corks are known for their traditional feel and are popularly known to help the wine age properly. They have also been attributed to be used in sealing the highest quality wine. Capped wine is sealed with screw caps. However, screw caps are a new invention. Yes, they have been touted to offer more convenience but they aren’t without their challenges too. Screw caps were initially perceived as an indicator of cheap wine but things are now more complicated.
Cork the good and bad
There’s no doubt that the corks are preferred for aging wines as they allow small amounts of of oxygen into a wine bottle, which helps wine age at the right rate. The supplied oxygen softens the tannins and creates a more complex taste for the contents of the bottle. The problem is measuring exactly how much oxygen passes through the cork. Experts have found that each cork has a variable degree of breathability. This means that even if you have two bottles of the same wine from the same vintage, they may age differently. You may get a difference in the taste of the wine from each bottle.When trying to open a wine bottle sealed with a cork, it can be quite difficult.
Another benefit of cork is they are a natural product and totally renewable. Cork comes from the bark of Portugese bark trees. Experts grade the cork based on it’s density and the length of usable cork, with inexpensive cork being short and porous. The unusable bits can be processed and chipped, then combined with natural binders to create synthetic corks. The challenge that this earth friendly option faces is the inability to ensure it’s contaminant free. About 3% of wine bottles sealed by corks are affected by TCA also called “cork taint”. TCA is a family of chemicals caused by molds that grow on the tree in nature. As these chemicals come in contact with wine and air they cause the wine to spoil – the wine develops a foul smell and bad taste. Most times, it’s hard to detect the taint until the wine has aged for a long time. The good news is that cork experts have noted that advancements in technology have reduced the number of tainted wine bottles from around 1 in 10 to 1 in a few 100.
Traditionalists and lovers of vintage wine bottles are hard to convince that they should give up there corks. When you take a close look at it, the corks are historic and add some character to the wine bottle. Who doesn’t love the sound of the cork popping out of the bottle? This in and of itself though can also be a challenge. A bottle of wine stored incorrectly will allow the wine to dry out, decreasing it’s effectiveness in sealing the wine. When this happens too much air will get into the bottle and can cause rapid oxidation or the formation of vinegar. Old corks can also degrade over time resulting in them becoming brittle and breaking apart when you try to remove them. These may require a special tool called an ah-so to remove. Or worse yet, the cork could just be a jerk, having expanded to tightly into the neck of the bottle and being deeply difficult to remove.
The summary on cork is, it’s a necessary aspect of aging fine wines, and will be the preference for fine wines for the foreseeable future if for no other reason than culture.
Screwcaps the good and bad
As technology has improved, capped wine and their screw caps have proven to offer more precision in the amount of oxygen that gets into the bottle and added ease. There are still a few challenges to when using them though. At the early stages of their use, screw caps were considered to be used only in wine of inferior quality. Recently, things have become more complicated. Yes, there are low-quality wine bottles that use screw caps but they have become a regular part of some of the best wine brands portfolios. Particularly for brands that make a range of varietals, you may find their Rose and Pinot Grigio is under screw cap as these wines aren’t made to age, while there Cabernet Sauvignon and single vineyard Chardonnay are in cork.
The great thing about capped wine is that it’s not subject to the wine tainting which affects corked wine. Because the bottles are not sealed with cork, there’s no risk of getting that foul smell or bad taste. Advancement in the technology has also allowed winemakers to precisely pick how much air they would like to permeate the cap. No need to store on there side to keep the cork wet either. It would seem that there are no bad sides to a capped wine. So why so many wines with cork still? It’s usually about the preference of whoever is interested in getting the wine bottle. Traditionalists would stick with corked wine while others may prefer to try out capped wine.
A really clear way to examine this debate is to look at an Oxford University study that looked to determine which type of closure was better. Although the study doesn’t prove much on which way was better for the wine, it found that consumers went the way of traditionalists. Let’s take a look at the details of how everything went.
After the study, the reason for the preference was rather surprising. The findings from the study revealed that screwcaps positively affected the taste and quality of the wine in the bottle, but the sound of a popped cork was made opening a bottle more appealing. That’s right, the pop sound you get after you remove the cork added a layer of appeal to the whole glass of wine. Now, that’s just amazing.
The study was headed by Professor Charles Spence, a psychologist, and it involved 140 participants. The participants were each asked to sample two different bottles of Argentinian Malbecs with one of them being a Terrazas de Los Andes and the other a Catena. They were asked to try out the different samples of wine after listening to the sound of a cork being opened and also after listening to a screw-cap being opened.
The participants were then asked to try out the samples of wine after opening the corks and screw-caps by themselves. They had no idea that they were the same bottles of wine they tried earlier but sealed differently. When asked to rate which wine they preferred in terms of sound, aroma, ambiance, and appearance, participants rated the corked wine as 15% better. 113 participants went for the corked wine while only a mere 13 preferred capped wine.
The study further revealed that the choices were more augmented by festive settings. Many participants preferred the corked wine because they felt it complemented a celebratory atmosphere. The results of this study concluded that people preferred the taste of wine poured from a corked bottle. Another research study even shows that people can’t tell the difference between corked and capped wine when subjected to a blind test.
This indicates that the choice between corked and capped wine is based on preference. Anyone is free to enjoy a bottle of wine as they see fit because they can both offer great bursts of flavor and an appealing aroma.