Skip to main content
newsletter

For more wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more, sign up to receive our Good Taste newsletter in your inbox every Wednesday.

Each week, I’m likely to open numerous bottles of wine for tastings, wine appreciation courses or educational seminars as well as ones to enjoy with dinner or a movie.

Most instances see me alternating between a corkscrew to cut the capsule on the neck of the bottle before extracting the cork stopper or cracking open a screw cap closure with a twist of the wrist. (On occasion, there’s one of those unusual Vinolok glass closures introduced by a German company in 2004.)

I don’t often register which bottles use which closure unless there’s something unusual. Last week, it was twisting off the top of a red wine from Italy that had an appellation certification band affixed to its aluminum capsule. Laws have allowed Italian producers in some of the country’s top winemaking regions to use screw caps since 2012, but they’re comparatively rare, which is why I paused as I opened Le Orme Barbera d’Asti 2018 from Michele Chiarlo.

While preparing for a masterclass on the evolution of Argentina’s wine industry, I was struck that all four wines, one white and three reds, had corks. (Turns out, three were natural cork stoppers, one was a plastic alternative.) While there’s been significant innovation and development in many aspects of the country’s wine trade, it’s staunchly traditional when it comes to bottling its wines.

Industry estimates suggest that screw caps are used on roughly one-third of the wines produced around the world each year, but the acceptance of twist-off closures for premium wine varies by country. In Australia and New Zealand, it’s difficult to find wines of all styles and price points sold with anything but a screw cap. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, cork reigns across the board.

Some consumers judge a wine by its closure and view screw caps as a sign of a low-quality wine. This is especially true in many parts of the United States, where the hangover from cheap jug wines with screw caps has been tough to shake.

While screw caps offer a lower cost alternative to natural corks, which can cost more than $1 each for the top-quality grade, that’s not the reason wine producers chose them. For more than 40 years, screw caps have proven to be an ideal closure for preserving a wine’s freshness and flavour for early consumption as well as over time in a wine cellar. Plus, there’s no need for a tool to open the bottle.

Screw caps flourished because cork closures face their own quality issues. While cork producers have found ways to protect against off flavours caused by fungal issues, brands of micro-agglomerated corks are marketed as free from taint or flavour, it’s believed as many as 6 per cent of wines bottled with corks show musty aromas that negatively affect the taste of the wine.

When used for long-term aging, cork closures degrade over time and risk permitting too much air ingress over time.

Innovative companies continue to seek alternatives. In Australia, Penfolds has been looking at developing a serviceable container with a glass-to-glass seal to ensure its collectable wines can be stored in pristine conditions.

No matter which innovative, user-friendly or protective closure comes on the scene next, it faces the challenge of the strong bond wine lovers have with cork. Since the 18th century, it’s been the accepted practice for the wine trade. For an industry that prides itself on heritage, that track record is tough to beat.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to The Globe. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Good Taste newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.