When you’re sitting down to enjoy a glass of wine, the type of bottle closure used is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However, the choice between corked or capped wine has been a hotly debated topic among wine enthusiasts for years. But does it really matter? Let’s explore the merits and differences of these closure methods, and their potential impact on the wine-drinking experience, and you can decide for yourself.
For centuries, natural cork has been the go-to closure for wine bottles, with evidence of its use dating as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans. Derived from the outer bark of the protected cork oak tree, this closure option is the most ecologically friendly, with one tree able to provide cork for thousands of bottles of wine over its lifespan.
Cork is known for its elasticity, durability, and ability to create an airtight seal while still allowing a miniscule amount of oxygen to enter the bottle, helping the wine to age and develop more complex flavors over time. And we can’t forget about the luxurious romance of uncorking a bottle, a traditional ritual that adds a layer of elegance and anticipation to the entire experience.
However, cork is not infallible. In addition to being the more expensive production option, one of the most notorious issues associated with natural corks is cork taint, caused by a chemical compound called trichloroanisole, or TCA. This results in an unpleasant, musty odor and can significantly impact the flavor and aroma of the wine. It’s estimated that between 3-5% of all cork-sealed wines may suffer from this issue, although that percentage has significantly decreased thanks to advancements in cork production and quality control.
In recent years, the screw cap has become increasingly popular, particularly in regions known for producing fresh and fruity wines. The main advantage of these closures is their ability to create an airtight seal, preventing the wine from oxidizing and minimizing the risk of TCA contamination. This ensures the wine remains fresh, with consistent flavors and aromas, and eliminates the need for a corkscrew or other tools to open the bottle. Plus, the ability to easily reseal a bottle makes screw caps an excellent choice if you’re not going to finish the entire bottle in one sitting.
Despite these benefits, screw caps are often still regarded as the “cheap wine” option (even if they’re on a high dollar bottle) and variable manufacturing quality means you’re not always getting the seal you think you are. Plus, as they’re typically made of a combination of aluminum with a plastic liner, most of these caps may end up in the landfill as they’re often not recyclable.
So DOES it matter?
The TL/DR version? You can’t judge a wine by its seal.
The debate surrounding corked versus capped wine often centers around the perception of quality. But perception is not fact. In reality, the closure type has a minimal impact on the quality or taste of the wine. Both corked and capped wines can be exceptional, depending on the winemakers’ skill, the quality of the grapes, and the overall production process.
There is no true winner here. This is why winemakers carefully consider their closure choices based on a wider range of influence including the wine’s style, aging potential, cost, and their target audience. Cork closures contribute to the traditional charm and aging potential of wines, whereas screw caps offer convenience and consistency, particularly for wines intended to be consumed young.
Ultimately, the most important factor in enjoying a bottle of wine lies in the wine itself – and the personal preferences of the drinker. So whether you grab a bottle that’s corked or capped, the true pleasure in is the glass, waiting to be savored.
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