Corks Or Screws?

Since the introduction of the screw top closure onto wine bottles, the debate about cork and screw tops has raged among the advocates and the traditionalists. The debate has not gotten any less heated over recent years, but have consumer habits changed?

New world wine producers led the way when it came to investing in screw top application machines. Australian and South African vineyards were some of the first. Old world wines such as French wines believed it would only be short lived, but the consumer has voted with their wallet.

Today the screw top has become accepted by the majority of online wine drinkers for many reasons. The primary reason is the abundance of screw tops used with online wine brands. The second reason is the perception of increased quality, i.e the belief that cork wines have a higher probability of being corked which can be an urban myth. The third reason is convenience as a screw top, especially for white and rose wines online offers the ability to drink from the bottle across multiple occasions during the week.

There is no real difference between screw top and cork, albeit the occasion of popping a great bottle of wine and smelling the cork. It is this ritual that makes the cork application unique and historically rich. To some this ritual is so important that screw tops are perceived as very low quality.

The growth of screw will continue as vineyards invest more in technology, but we believe that the real top end of wines online will remain in cork because of the perceived increased value. Some brands just below top end have moved into screw caps but again these have been new world rather than old world. It seems that French wine may well be the last country to adopt the change, but perhaps they never will across top end wines.

In two years time those brands that had intended to move into screw top will have and then there will be two different categories, but we believe most online wine consumers are ambivalent now to the change for white and rose wines. Red wines are perhaps different as their richness and multiple flavour dimensions of the wine lend themselves better to a cork.

There is a problem with online wine shopping as unlike bricks and mortar retail the consumer finds it difficult to differentiate from a picture if the brand has a screw or cork. To help with this some online wine merchants state on the wine description the application.

So if you are a screw top or a cork fan you can be secure in the knowledge that your choice is the right choice for you and your wine that you have chosen online will be divine. For those of you who just don’t care then you are the lucky ones.

Maybe in the near future technology may again advance the closure after all there is a cork and a plastic cork. Only time will tell, enjoy your wine.

Getting Screwed By Your Wine Closure?

At a recent wine event we gladly enjoyed the crisp crinkling sound of the black screw top coming off our freshly bottled Escort Pinot Gris. Why you might ask? Well as hard to believe as this may be, we almost never can find a functioning cork puller at our home. Also, as this wine is fantastic (IMHO) we didn’t want to take a chance on having to waste a single bottle due to 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). Corked wine as it is better known smells like wet sheep dog or a dark damp moldy basement floor mat or well you get the idea. It doesn’t smell like something you would like to drink or have at the dinner table with you.

Cork taint is caused by the interaction of bugs (micro fungi) and environmental chlorine. It seems that the once popular wonder bug killing cleaning agent wasn’t always the vinters’ buddy. Even when winemakers switched to Hydrogen Peroxide or other cleaning agents we still had cork taint. It was discorverd that cork oak itself (Quercus Suber) had been naturally putting Chloroanisoles in the bark all along. Yes, corks come from the bark of real trees. So, in order to not lose about 4-9% of wine production to the little buggers many wine producers have moved to cork alternatives, like the screw tops and synthetic corks.

The synthetic corks are made of high-grade thermoplastic elastomer that allows them to compress and expand just like oak bark corks. They maintain the look, feel and most importantly the romantic pop of the natural cork. This type of cork can be found in bottles of our Oregon Foreplay and Vixen Syrah. They will never break in half or crumble when being pulled from the bottle. So while you will still need a wine puller to open the bottle you will rarely if ever have wine with TCA. Yes, even with synthetic closures TCA can come from other sources, like the oak barrel it self but it is very very rare.

Don’t frett just yet about the death of natural cork though, as the wine industry has responded with methods to virtually eliminate TCA. The rosa system is a good example of a cork cleaning process to reduce TCA and sobate diamond process extracts the bad compounds from the cork with supercritical CO2. Natural Cork advocates also argue that the small amount of oxygen allowed into the bottle by natural cork aids in the bottle development of red wines. In fact at Naked Winery we use the natural cork closure on our big reds like the Missionary Cabernet Sauvignon for exactly that reason.

So what’s the bottom line optimum closure? Technically the screw top is hard to beat as it doesn’t have the TCA issue and does not let air into the bottle until you decide to open it up and drink. Add to this the fact that blind taste tests conducted on identical wines aged with corks versus screw caps found the tasters choosing the screw cap wine most of the time. Does this mean we’ll all be using screws tops in the future? No. Absolutely not, as in real life we are not blinded during the experience of wine. Many people will continue prefer the feel and excitement (maybe nervousness as well) that occurs when we pop the cork!

What Is the Best Wine Bottle Opener or Corkscrew to Remove a Wine Cork?

To begin the cork removal process we start with the foil or “capsule” covering on the top of the wine bottle. These may keep the cork clean but they are often difficult to get off. These can be a foil type material, cellophane or plastic. On most corkscrews there is a small knife that is specifically used to cut and remove the capsule, whether it be foil, a plastic plug or cellophane. We suggest that you remove the entire capsule from the wine bottle as this makes for easier pouring. There are also U shaped foil cutters with small blades at each end to use at the top of the bottle if you wish to keep an attractive capsule in place. The foil cutter will allow you to remove the top part of the capsule only. Your choice, of course.

As for the type of wine bottle opener or corkscrew to use this is definitely an individual choice. Some things to consider are that you want to use a device that does not break your cork or go completely through the cork leaving pieces of cork in the wine bottle. Ease of use is definitely a consideration as well. There are corkscrews with just a handle and a worm (the curly thing that you put in the cork) which offer no leverage at all and it would take Charles Atlas to get them out! Avoid those, please. Recently new on the market are the electric wine openers that are easy to use and get the cork out quickly. The down side to these is that they can go straight through the cork and possibly cause some pieces to end up in your wine. But for arthritis sufferers this may be a great choice. For many of us the first corkscrew we had was the big, silver wing item that could really pinch you if you were not careful. You place the worm in the cork, twist it down and the silver wings rise up. You then push the two wings down and the cork comes out. It can also tear your cork apart. There are much easier options.

A favorite of ours is the Waiter’s Corkscrew. Compact and easy to take with you anywhere, these are the corkscrews you will see most often in restaurants. They are so easy to carry that servers can easily put them in a pants pocket. It is a powerful little tool with a small knife, a lever and a worm that fold together like a Swiss army knife. You use the knife to remove the capsule, then open the lever and the worm. Guide the worm down into the center of the cork turning clockwise while holding the neck of the bottle firmly with the other hand. You should see just the very last turn of the worm remain on top of the cork. Rest the lever on the lip of the bottle and push against it while pulling the cork up. There should be a nice “pop” when the cork comes out. Success! This takes a few times to get the hang of it, but once you do the Waiter’s Corkscrew may be your first choice too. You can purchase a good one for about $15.

Another great wine bottle opener is a screwpull type. This one has two parts – a long 5 inch worm and a 6 inch long U shaped plastic piece that sits on top of the wine bottle. You put the U shaped piece over the bottle resting it on the bottle. Insert the worm in the cork and through the plastic piece and turn in that clockwise direction holding tightly to the neck with your other hand. The cork just seems to rise out of the bottle. Turn the cork counterclockwise to get it off the worm and pour! Also, the screwpull is wonderfully priced at about $25.

If you have more money to invest and are into a bit more fancy and interesting corkscrews the Rabbit Corkscrew is amazing. It is easy to use and opens your wine in three seconds flat. This is a lever type corkscrew that in one easy push and pull the cork is out. Another push and the cork is off the worm. When choosing a Rabbit you will be making an investment of $50 to $100. With a 10 year warranty and tested for 20,000 cork pulls it just may be worth it.

Do not be intimidated when opening a bottle of wine. Technology and leverage are now on our side. We have several great choices in wine bottle openers and corkscrews. Happy Toasting. CHEERS!

Corks – Does Your Wine Really Have to Be Sealed With Real Cork?

As I sit down to write this, I can already envision the hate mail I’m going to receive from wine purists. The reason for that is because so many wine drinkers believe that the only way that a bottle of wine should ever be sealed is with true cork. I have to say that I just don’t agree with that. Here’s a few reasons as to why.

Cost

Cork cost money. By switching from real cork to either a synthetic cork or a screwcap, wine makers can shed money off their costs, which they can in turn pass on to you. More and more of your up and coming vineyards are switching to the use of screwcaps and synthetic corks to help them achieve the affordable wines they need to make themselves competitive in an ever growing wine market.

Taste

I’ll never be able to say for certain that a real cork can enhance the taste of the wine, but one thing I do know is that a rotting cork can add bad flavors and ruin a perfectly good bottle of wine. As not everybody knows how to properly store a bottle of wine, there are times when your cork can actually be a detriment to the wine. Whether it’s by falling apart and letting air into the bottle which can, in turn, turn the wine into very expensive vinegar, or crumbling into the bottle itself, real cork is unreliable in its ability to preserve wine.

Sediment

If there’s one thing I can’t stand when drinking a glass of wine, it’s when I have sediment from the cork at the bottom of my glass. While simple floaters in the bottle from opening the bottle and driving the corkscrew through the cork and into the bottle are bad enough, cork that has dried out too much and then fallen apart into the bottle can quickly turn into a grainy sediment at the bottom of the bottle that can ruin your enjoyment of the wine by altering the taste and the texture as you go for that last drop.

Opening Ease

While screwcaps are by far the easiest way to open a bottle of wine (no corkscrew required), synthetic corks are still easier than real corks for one simple reason: they don’t break apart. I’m a professional bartender and have opened more than my fair share of wine bottles through the years, but even I have cracked, crumbled, and broken corks. Synthetic corks won’t shatter, crumble, and don’t shed anything into the glass if you push through them with your corkscrew. There’s no concern about ruining a bottle in the opening process, and that’s a big win in my book.

There’s No Right Answer

In the end, there really is on right or wrong answer to the debate of which method of sealing wine bottles is best. Wine review sites, sommeliers, and experts can debate it for all time, but in the end, the only thing that really matters is the wine, and whether the cork affects that or not can only be determined by opening bottles of wine and enjoying them, which I am more than happy to be the first to do.