Corks Vs. Screw Caps: What You Need To Know

Anytime you walk into your neighborhood wine merchant, you probably notice a huge difference between certain wines. Not just the color, variety, or region where they were grown — but what keeps it inside the bottle. Some wine is capped with the classic cork, while a growing number of bottles use screw tops. First, it’s a myth that screw-top bottles are inferior — that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s what else you need to know.

Cork

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Cork has been used since the 15th century to keep liquid inside bottles, because the material is flexible enough to stay put in a bottleneck. Real corks, which are made entirely from the bark of the cork oak, are completely biodegradable. However many corks, especially on bottles that cost lost than $30, include plastic, cork sawdust, glue, and other filler products. These are recyclable, and won't leach anything poisonous into the wine. Some cheap corks, however, can affect the wine’s flavor. Plastic corks, which are rubbery and lighter in color than real corks, are also recyclable and very safe. True cork is actually fairly expensive, so for cheaper bottles, it can actually make up a good fraction of the price tag. Some people prefer corks because they allow the wine to “breathe,” a process called oxygen ingress. Real corks have been shown to widely vary in how much oxygen they bring in, but this is the main reason some winelovers are also die-hard cork lovers. Also, of course, corks require a corkscrew (unless you’re handy at opening a bottle with a shoe — more on that later).

Screw Top

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Many people still assume wine with a cap is automatically of poor quality. This is very far from the truth. In fact, most bottles in Australia use screw tops. This is because consumers soured on corks in the 1980s when penny-pinching winemakers used cheap ones that tainted the flavor of the wine. Also, long-term studies on bottles that utilize screw tops show that this sealing method doesn’t affect the wine’s ability to age. Screw tops are almost always recyclable because they are made from metal. Some might not breathe as well as cork, but many new ones actually have a customizable amount of oxygen ingress. Best of all, screw tops don’t require a corkscrew, which makes closing and transporting wine extremely easy — a great choice for picnics or other times where you might not have the appropriate tools on available.