#WineQuestions: Is it true that wines with corks are better?

Over the past couple of years we’ve been asked our fair share of wine questions, some of them very niche and specific, and some that seem to be playing on everybody’s lips. In this weekly blog series we thought we’d attempt to tackle some of the most common questions we get about the world of wine, this week “Are wines with corks better?”

Is it true that wines with corks are better?

The closure used on a wine if often down to the traditions of the winemaking area, the costs involved and the thoughts of the head winemaker. Although the lions share of fine wines feature cork seals, there are also a large number of wineries producing exceptional quality wines and sealing them with a screw cap.

There are even a growing number of wineries coming out of Australia and New Zealand which are producing wines upwards of £50 a bottle and still exclusively using screw caps.

So why is there such a big difference?

The type of closure on a wine will effect the way a wine ages, and occasionally how it should be stored. With regards to the quality of the wine in the bottle, cork can cause younger wines to lose their fruity characteristics quicker, as natural cork is a porous material which allows the wine to breathe more effectively.

This is great if you want the wine to age and develop, as one might with something with a large amount of tannin such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, however if the wine has been produced to be drank fresh and young, like most Pinot Grigio, cork is potentially going to reduce it’s shelf life.

Our advice with regards to wines sealed with cork is to ensure they are stored lying down, this keeps the cork moist which means it keeps the seal around the bottle. This will also prevent the cork from crumbling when it encounters a corkscrew, making it easier to get the bottle open.

So what about screw caps?

Are wines with corks better?Screw caps are better for the wine in the bottle. It won’t age as much and as long as the seal is in tact there won’t be any oxygen contact for around six months. This is because the bottles and caps are flushed with nitrogen, keeping the oxygen away from the wine.

Most screw caps, however, are made in a way that does allow a little oxygen to pass through allowing the wine to ‘breathe’ a little, but not as much as cork.

A thing to note, however is that the aging process which occurs in wine is actually down to the way the tannins react. Without getting too much into the science, tannins exist in chain molecules and the longer they are lain down or allowed to react they will bind to form longer chains, which softens them and allows them to be better integrated in the wine.

Because of this, screw caps mean that what comes out of your bottle will be as fresh when you drink it as when it was bottled for the first six months to a year and following that the only deterioration or improvement that will have happened is down to the way the wine itself reacts to age. Be aware when cellaring, however, that around the world there isn’t much data on wine’s reaction to cellaring in a screw cap beyond 10 years.

TL:DR The quality of the wine is not denoted by the type of closure. But if you have a personal preference on the way you like your wines to age here’s a handy guide. 

  • For a wine you want to be youthful and fresh (like a Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc), go for a screwcap, the younger the better.
  • If you want a bit of age and structure but still want a young wine, go for natural cork.
  • If it’s an older wine, the tannins will have developed either way, however if it’s more than 5-10 years old a cork will possibly be better.

Do you have any burning #winequestions for us here at The Pip Stop? Head on over to Facebook or Twitter and ask away! Or just drop us a line in the comments.

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