When it comes to choosing a wine for your next dinner party or as a hostess gift, you face a lot of questions: White or red? Dry or sweet? Bubbles or no? If you know your friends well, the answers to those questions can be fairly simple. But the one question that gets me every time is cork or screw cap wine better? I always assume that corked wine seems fancier, but the screw top is much more convenient. So does it make a difference? Is one better than the other? I consulted an expert to find out.
Cork vs. Screw Cap—What’s the Difference?
Before we can get into which is better, it’s important to know the difference between these two options because they affect the wine differently.
Cork, obviously, is the most traditional method for sealing wine—it’s been used for thousands of years! It’s natural (it comes from a part of a specific species of oak) and it does a great job of sealing up the bottle while allowing the wine to breathe a bit. That means some oxygen permeates the cork and mingles with the wine. This can be great for some wines that benefit from oxidization. That process can help improve the aging process and add some nuanced flavors. However, corks can cause some wine to go bad. Between one and three percent of wines will be affected by cork taint.
Screw caps, on the other hand, are relatively new on the wine scene; the first bottles with screw tops were produced in the 1970s for convenience (after all, we don’t all have corkscrews ready). These caps seal the bottle of wine so no air can get in. This eliminates the possibility of oxygen getting inside, so the wine won’t age-post bottling.
What’s the Verdict?
Of course, there’s room for interpretation with this debate—some folks just prefer to uncork their favorite bottle. However, according to Mick Schroeter, Winemaking Director at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Sonoma County, California, screw caps are generally a safer bet when it comes to wine because there’s no risk of the dreaded cork taint.
“The wines hold their youthful vibrance,” according to Mick, when sealed with a screw cap. He explains that when identical Chardonnays—one sealed with cork and another with the screw-on cap—were tasted after 15 years, the screw cap variety was as exceptional as ever. “The other was oxidized and just not as good.”
When it comes to wines sealed with cork, Mick explains that, yes, the oxidization process that the cork allows can help develop the flavors, but “there’s just more variability in old wines because of the cork.” And variability and oxygen can lead you to open an expensive aged bottle only to find it doesn’t taste as it should.
The bottom line: “You get consistent preservation with screw caps,” Mick says.
So if you’re a serious oenophile, you might want to scope out more screw top options to fill your cellar. And if you just prefer screw tops for convenience, that’s OK, too (we won’t tell!).