Cork vs. Screw Caps — Choosing How to Seal Your Wine Bottles


There are a number of considerations to keep in mind when choosing between cork and screw caps for sealing your wine bottles.


By Kinnek Knowledge Team  |  June 09, 2018

If you’re just getting started in the wine business, then chances are that you’ve considered the dilemma challenging many fresh-faced winemakers today: under what circumstances does it make sense to go with a screw cap as opposed to cork when trying to decide how to seal your commercial wine bottles?

It’s important to understand that cork (or synthetic cork, in some cases) has been considered the “default” choice for sealing wine bottles — for quite some time now.  Thanks to the semi-permeable nature of the material, cork lets wine breathe in oxygen (and breathe out various other gases), ensuring that the wine can properly mature without being negatively affected by exposure to outside air.  Corks also come with a classic sort of experience and look that the wine purchasing public has come to value.  In fact, cork has frequently been associated with premium wines, while screw caps have frequently been associated with low-cost wines.

In recent years, the wine industry has changed significantly, turning tradition on its head.  Many premium wineries are using screw caps, too.  This can be confusing for many winemakers new to the business — have they been taught wrong all these years?

Consider the following.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cork

Cork is made of a porous “bark” that allows the wine to breathe.  It has been widely used to seal wine bottles for over 700 years, so it’s fairly battle-tested.  Of course, that is not meant to imply that cork seals are perfect.  There are, in fact, many disadvantages to using cork that are worth noting.

Advantages

  • Cork is unique in that the wine will continue to age despite being sealed
  • Cork has a premium look and feel that will aesthetically appeal to a certain segment of customers
  • Cork lets out a noise when it is opened (a “popping” sound) that many find to be a great match for a celebratory occasion

Disadvantages

  • Cork can react and become tainted, thus damaging the wine and rendering it undrinkable (this occurs at a high rate, anywhere from 3-4 percent of all corked wines)
  • If it is of low quality, or if removed improperly, pieces of cork can fall into the wine, causing a lot of hassle for the buyer
  • Not all corks are the same — some vendors may sell low-quality corks, which can negatively affect how your wine ages

Screw Caps May Be a Good Choice for Young Wines

Though wineries that use screw caps have had a difficult time escaping the mainstream perception that such caps are only used for low-cost or low-quality wines, it has become increasingly acceptable in recent years.

That is not to say that screw caps don’t have particular value for low-cost wines.  In fact, screw caps can be up to one-third the price of comparable cork seals, so if you’re selling wine at a low margin, it may be necessary to use screw caps just to keep your bottom line in the black.

Perhaps the best way to approach your decision on whether to choose a cork seal or a screw cap is to consider how you want the wine to be experienced.  Generally speaking, wines that are best experienced “fresh” are better off with screw caps (that prevent all gas from entering or exiting the bottle).  On the other hand, wines that benefit from a little bit of oxygen (which not only ages the wine, but also softens the tannin content of the wine and smoothes out the harshness inherent to the wine) will do better with cork seals.

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