Cork vs Screw Cap

Cork vs Screw cap, which one is actually better? Corks are the classic way to seal a wine bottle, but screw caps are becoming increasingly popular. This has started a debate over which method is actually the best for conserving wine. We compared the two methods to find out which method is the best.

champagne corks showing cork vs screw cap

Published April 11th 2020

Cork is a symbol of wine, and many people love the ritual of pulling the cork from the wine bottle. This has been the traditional method for centuries, and argued as the best way to conserve wine in the bottle due to cork's unique porous quality. Portugal is the largest cork producer in the world, with more than 50% of the global cork production.

Screw caps, made of metal or plastic, have only been used for a few decades, and some of the more traditional wine drinkers associate them with cheap wine. This type of cap has become increasingly popular in the wine industry, and lately some wine producers have started using them even on their best wines. Corkless wine is especially popular in new world wine countries, while old world countries tend to be more keen on keeping to the traditional cork.

Cork Pros

One of cork's advantages is that it comes from a natural renewable source. Cork is extracted from cork oak trees. The outer layer of the tree trunk, containing the cork, is peeled without damage to the tree and it re-grows after 9 years to repeat the peeling process.

Cork is also spongy and impermeable to most liquids and gases, thereby keeping the quality of the wine for a long time. It is naturally porous, which lets small amounts of oxygen into the bottle. This allows the wine to breathe and is crucial for the ageing process.

Cork oak tree stripped of its outer cork layer
Cork oak tree stripped of its outer cork layer

Cork Cons

The main disadvantage of using cork caps is that there is a risk that of what is called “corked wine”. This happens when the wine develops a substance called trichloroanisole, which is formed when natural fungi from the cork come in contact with certain chlorides from sterilization products. Corked wine, gives the wine a taste often described as mouldy, soggy, rotten or musty flavour. It is not dangerous to drink, but it certainly has an unpleasant taste. 1-3% of wines are affected by this. Corked wine is not the same as cork in wine, which is when you can find small pieces of cork floating around in your glass. These small pieces are harmless and don't change the flavour of the wine.

Cork is also a limited natural resource and therefore becomes more expensive than screw caps. The best wine corks are usually used for vintage Champagne and expensive red wines from Bordeaux.

Screw Cap Pros

The main advantage of screw caps is that there is no risk of developing corked wine for a wine that doesn't use cork. In fact, screw caps were invented because winemakers wanted a solution to the increasingly large problem with corked wine.

Screw caps are also much cheaper to manufacture than cork, which in theory reduces the price the wine bottle.

Abother advantage is that many consumers find it easier to open a bottle with a screw cap, and they can easily seal the bottle again after opening.

Screw Cap Cons

The main disadvantage of using screw caps is that they don't let the wine to breathe the same way cork does. Therefore, the screw cap is not ideal for ageing wine.

Also, most screw caps are made of non-renewable resources, which makes them less environmentally-friendly.

Conclusion: which is better?

Cork and screw caps both have their advantages and disadvantages. If you want to bring your wine for a picnic, screw cap might be more convenient. If you are going to store the wine for long periods of time, cork is probably better. For regular drinking, many people still prefer the cork because of the tradition and the feeling. Just keep in mind that a screw cap does not mean the wine is low quality.