Ask A Wino – Corks vs. Screw Tops


james wall C4 Deli Resident Bartender, Wine Purchaser and Texas native James Wall is the person you want on your best buddy list. Look out for his ‘red and white’ insight every Wednesday on our Wino Wednesday: Ask A Wino Q&A.

Q: Why do some wines have corks and some have screw-tops?

A: Good question, if I had one solid answer to that one I believe I would be one step ahead of some of the top wine producers out there. In reality, there are a multitude of both mumbo jumbo scientific reasons and personal preferences for choosing how to close a wine bottle.

Let’s start off with the basics. There are three main routes you can take when deciding how to seal a wine bottle; natural corks, synthetic corks, and the new closer in the wine game: the screw top.

The natural cork has been around the longest and is flexible and biodegradable, however it does have one major flaw, the possibility for a bad guy called Trichloroanisole (more commonly known as TCA) to invade your wine. TCA contamination occurs when chlorine-based sanitizing properties react with natural fungus found on the cork. They won’t kill you, but they will give your wine a flat, moldy flavor, taking away any pleasant fruit-filled taste and smell. It is estimated that 5-10% of shelved wines contain TCA, although luckily new cork making processes have been developed to decrease the odds.

Synthetic corks are similar to the natural cork except that they are derived from plastic, eliminating the possibility of TCA. The criticism of synthetic corks is that they may ruin the maturation process due to an inability to keep oxidation from occurring for an extended amount of time.

Finally, we have the newest addition to the wine world, the screw top. The screw top is easy to open, easy to reclose, and eliminates TCA, the obvious choice right? Well, not for everyone. Many winemakers and wine enthusiasts have trouble completely ridding the romance and tradition of uncorking a bottle. There is also a misconception that screw tops are associated with jugs and cheap wine. New Zealand winemakers are currently the leaders in utilizing the screw top, holding the belief that it creates better flavor and freshness, more important than keeping up with an old ritual. Other countries, including the US are starting to follow New Zealand’s lead.

Some winemakers are choosing to not take any one side, and prefer to use screw caps for white wines and some reds, while keeping the traditional corks for more complex fuller wines in order to maintain the traditional means of allowing for some oxygen to come through. Whichever means of closure you prefer when choosing what wine bottle to purchase, keep in mind that there will always be changing viewpoints on each. What is most important in my opinion are the flavors you experience once you are drinking the wine. I could care less whether or not you cork it or twist it; I just want to try it!