• John DiMuccio

Corks or Screw-tops on wines. Does it matter?

Why do I see most white wines (and even some red wines) coming with screw tops? Why do most reds have a cork? Without getting too "sciencey" and putting you to sleep, it’s fairly simple.

Natural cork is porous, though not so much that wine leaks out when a bottle is laying on its side. This permeability allows the wine to “breathe” a miniscule amount, which is what people are looking for when aging their wine. A screw top seals the top of the bottle causing a near air-tight closure. This subject is endlessly debated—which is better for the wine? The answer: it depends. I know, you probably want something a little more definitive than that.

This leads us to our initial question: why so many screw tops on white wines vs. red wines? Well, you may have noticed most of the whites you’re buying are probably only 1, MAYBE 2 years old. This is because most of the whites you’re buying are MEANT to be drunk young (not meant to be aged). Winemakers don’t need corks to age their wine in these cases. Many red wines have been produced and designed to be aged for at least a few years, though this is changing over recent years. You may have noticed an increase of red wines with screw tops—many reds are made by winemakers to be opened and consumed early, something consumers tend to do more now than storing and aging wine. 

Why the screw tops over the corks? One thing is, the screw tops are cheaper for the winemaker and thus, for the consumer. Secondly, and more importantly: because cork is a natural, porous, and breathable product, they can sometimes lead to spoilage of wine. You’ll hear someone say, “this bottle is corked.” This mainly occurs from the presence of chemical compounds, TBA or TCA, in the cork. Some predict that up to 10% of the wine out on the shelves is “corked”, or spoiled. For example, out of 30,000 bottles of wine produced by a winemaker, up to 3,000 could be spoiled as a result of the cork. That’s crazy, right? Usually much less than that 10% is completely undrinkable. Spoilage caused by corks can range from a slight detection of poor taste to spit-it-out-dump-it-down-the-drain-fast!

So, what about the screw top then? There is a MUCH lower spoilage rate for a screw top! Some report this is as low as 2%! So if there isn’t a NEED for using the cork (aging), and it isn’t for most whites (or young reds), why risk it? They’re cheaper, more reliable, and hey, they’re easier to open ;)

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