filed under Beverages, Wine

Considering the Screw Cap

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Photo by Cristián Calaf Fuentes

Do screw caps on wine turn you off? Ever find yourself skipping right past a seemingly solid bottle at your local wine shop merely because it bears a decidedly unsexy twist top instead of a classic, old-school cork? Well let me tell you, you’re not alone!

The growing prevalence of screw caps as an alternative wine closure to corks has generated lots of dissent from savvy wine consumers who refuse to purchase wines sealed with screw caps, irrelevant of what’s in the bottle. The common complaint is that screw caps look cheap and that they’ve caused the demise of tradition. People, it seems, are missing that time-worn ritual of hearing the cork pop. Odd, perhaps, but true.

While I admit that natural corks might be more aesthetically pleasing than screw caps, they do pose the risk of tainting wine with fungi called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) and TBA (2,4,6-tribromoanisole). TCA and TBA can travel through a cork’s pores, leach out of the cork into the wine, and render it undrinkable, imparting foul aromas of wet cardboard, mold, band-aid, or wet dog, and subduing the wine’s native aromas.

Despite their less than elegant appearance, screw caps completely eliminate the risk of TCA or TBA contamination, AKA “cork taint,” which for wineries and consumers alike, can be a great thing. Wouldn’t you rather purchase a wine that is guaranteed to be in perfect condition, as opposed to taking a chance on a wine sealed with a cork, even if it means sacrificing the ceremony?

While screw caps do have their merits, they’ll never be able to replace natural corks completely. Unlike natural corks, screw caps are hermetically sealed and prevent the flow of oxygen into a wine. For this reason, they are best reserved for wines that don’t require aging and oxygenation, and that are meant to be drunk young and fresh within a few years of their vintage date. This holds true for whites, rosés, and reds alike.

Wines that are built for cellaring should pretty much always be bottled under natural cork, not screw cap. Corks serve an extremely important role in the aging process since they are porous in nature, which enables the flow of oxygen into the wine, allowing the wine to evolve over time and develop secondary characteristics, including new aromas and flavors. Oxygen can also alter a wine’s texture and has the ability to soften a young wine’s harsh tannins, rendering it rounder and more supple with time.

A notable downside to wines bottled under screw cap is the risk of reduction, which can result from an extreme lack of oxygen flow into the wine. Reductive aromas include rotten eggs, burnt rubber, or struck matches. While it’s something to look out for, reduction has not yet become a widespread problem with wines sealed under screw cap, so fear not.

At the end of the day, both natural corks and screw caps have a purpose to serve.
Check out these five fantastic wines bottled under screw cap and decide for yourself!

Mountford Village Pinot Noir 2008, Waipara, New Zealand

Winzerkeller Andau St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria

Domaine du Poujol Pico 2009, Languedoc, France

Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand

Tomero Torrontes 2010, Salta, Argentina

  • Lance_ignon

    Etty, It is rare to see such a balanced and accurate article about wine closures. Well done.  I have just two points to make:   Thanks to multi-million-dollar investments by the cork industry, TCA is not nearly the problem it was in years past.  The rate of contamination is now at or less than 1% from reputable cork manufacturers. ( Using cork benefits the environment because it supports the stewardship of cork oak groves that trap carbon and provide habitat and jobs.  It’s also biodegradable and recyclable.  Screw-caps, of course, are made from aluminum derived from open-pit bauxite mines.  And while they can theoretically be recycled, they rarely are.I look forward to reading more of your posts.Lance

  • PSpencer

    Your article raises some good points, thank you for taking the time to raise them. Please allow me to suggest a few corrections:

    1. 246-TCA is not a fungus but a chemical agent.

    2. Not all wines that have been affected by TCA are rendered “undrinkable”, there are varying levels of taint and every person has a different tolerance/intolerance to TCA, regarding taste.

    3.Wine closed with screw caps can be affected by TCA if it is prevalent in the winery. 

    4. The statement that wines closed with screw cap are always in “perfect condition” is not 100% correct. Many tests and studies have shown that up to 2.5% of all screw caps wines tested were “flawed or off” due to reduction issues. 

    In closing it should be noted that wine makers must change the way they make their wines to accomodate screw caps, including adding significant amounts of copper. Future testing will determine if these amounts of copper are in fact harmful to our health. 

    Patrick Spencer
    Executive Director
    Cork Forest Conservation Alliance

  • Pingback: Menuism: Screw Caps vs. Corks: What You Need To know | Screw Cable()

  • David Moore

    It’s inaccurate to say that screw caps are not for the “long haul.” The longest-lived wines from some of the greatest wine growers in the world are sealed with screw caps for almost every market except the U.S. I just recently drank a 2006 “Grosses Gewachs” riesling from Peter Jakob Kuhn, that was stunning. The magnificent “Ceparello” from Isole e Olena is bottled under screw cap for international markets, and I doubt the producer (Paolo De Marchi) would play loose with his “flagship.”

    A more accurate description of the situation would be to say that “the jury’s still out” regarding the long-term storage of wine under the stelvin screw cap, and, for that matter, all “alternative” closures, such as nomacorc. We have, thankfully, passed by the time when hard plastic corks were considered a useful alternative.

Etty Lewensztain is the owner of Plonk Wine Merchants, an online shop focused on small-production, artisanal and altogether great cheap wine. The food- and wine- obsessed Los Angeles native cut her teeth in the wine biz running a marketing campaign to promote Chilean wine in the United States, and is certified by the esteemed Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the American Sommelier Association. Plonk Wine Merchants specializes in hidden gems from around the globe and every bottle in the store is priced below $30. Follow Plonk Wine Merchants on Twitter @ PlonkOnline.