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Are the screw caps the future of the wine industry?

Along with the quality of the bottle, the closing method is the most important part of wine packaging. A good closing ensures adequate closure, primarily in order to prevent the entry of air into the wine. When deciding on the right closing method the main thing to take into consideration is how long will the wine be stored in the bottle.

While corks are a traditional approach, the modern era brings new, excellent solutions that are used by more and more Croatian winemakers. When selecting a closing method, the winemakers take into consideration how long will the wine be in the bottle, the target price of the finished product and the market the product is intended for.

So, can we discuss the quality of the wine by the type of closing used?

Cork

Natural corks are in fact, pieces of bark harvested from the "cork oak". This is one of the few natural products that are (almost) impermeable and very durable. Portugal produces the half of the world production of corks. And if you visit the country, you'll see them making everything from handbags to furniture out of cork. But still, the primary use of cork in the world is closing the bottles of wine.

After being harvested the cork oak needs around 6-7 years to grow a new bark, for making new corks. Being that the process of making new corks is very time-consuming, it is understandable that they aren't cheap and the supply is limited.

Corks have been favorized over time with the argument that they let the wine breathe. That was true until the industry started producing other closing methods, both screw caps and cork alternatives that have calculated oxygen ingress.

One of the most known problems of this natural cap is known as cork taint. A fungus that grows in the cork produces trichloroanisole (TCA), which causes the loss of flavors in wine, the change of color and unpleasant aromas of wet cardboard, mold or wet clothes that completely cover the wines real character and the wine becomes undrinkable. If you plan to age your wine sealed with cork, you need to be aware that the cork needs to stay moist and in contact with the wine inside. You'll have to store your bottles by the side, not upside down.

Wines that are destined for long-term aging and maturing for years, usually have high-quality corks. This means that they are made of 100% pure cork which bring the price tag of the bottle higher. They are expensive and limited in the supply, so you probably won't find natural corks in bottles that are under 25 Eur.

The second category is agglomerated cork plugs that are made of crushed cork particles of various granulations. These cheaper alternatives to the natural cork proved low in quality.

Wines with screw and cork caps by Trapan - Photo: Food & Wine station Trapan/Facebook
Wines with screw and cork caps by Trapan - Photo: Food & Wine station Trapan/Facebook

Screw cap

Step aside cork, the screw cap is coming! 

There are more and more high-quality wines with a screw cap, especially those that are intended to be consumed young. Australia and New Zealand revolutionized the usage of screw caps in the wine industry and nowadays most of their production, including premium wines are sealed with screw caps.

Many winemakers believe that wines kept in bottles with a screw cap are not lagging in quality behind wines that are closed with a cork. On the contrary, screw caps ensure freshness, preserving its appearance, taste and they retain the aromatic style of wine.

Some studies show that the screw caps are better at preserving consistency, flavors, and aromas of the wine. Australian Wine Research Institute tested 9 different closing methods for wines and after 9 months same wine closed with the screw cap showed balanced profile with clear flavors. On the other side, same wines closed with other methods (corks) showed greater variations in flavors.

Today it is believed that the wines with screw cap are best drank within five years, and if it is consumed after then there is a possibility of a variation in flavor, but this variation is almost insignificant.

The main advantage of screwcaps is that there is no room for faultiness caused by TCA. The air has no chance of getting into the selected bottle of wine. They are easy to open and almost guarantee that every bottle will have the same taste, preserving freshness and aromas.

Croatian wine Dika graševina is the one with screw cap - Photo: Feravino/Facebook
Croatian wine Dika graševina is the one with screw cap - Photo: Feravino/Facebook

Because of the efficient opening/closing mechanism and limited risk of TCA, screw caps are increasingly used by Croatian winemakers.

Also, besides quality and convenience, the screw cap has the unlimited creative possibilities that offer winemakers the ability to create unique, recognizable emblems and logos. 

Synthetic cap

The caps that are used the least among the winemakers are synthetic caps. They look the same as the cork plugs and use the same stopping mechanism. These types of caps were intended to replace the cork plugs to avoid TCA risk and to maintain the traditional appearance of wine, but they were not widely accepted. Their flaw is that when the temperature rises too high, the cap tightens and changes so the wine may evaporate or oxidize.

We'll definitely see more alternatives to corks in the future

The global wine production is rising and we see more and more people enjoying wine. That only means that the industry will have to find alternatives to natural cork of equal quality. Not only because of the high price of corks but because of the limited supply. The production of corks cannot be accelerated, the tree needs years to produce new bark.

High quality, 100% cork closings are used for premium wines and are considered as the best closing method for wines that are meant to age. Natural corks let the wine breathe and develop with time in the bottle but they still have the risk of cork taint if the bottles are not stored properly.

With time, the industry explored and developed premium screw caps and alternatives that can behave almost exactly like the natural cork, without the risk of the cork taint. Some studies show that wines can be aged with the screw cap closing, but we'll still need time to explore all of the possibilities.

One is for sure, the screw cap isn't the indicator of poor quality wine. It is associated with freshness and consistency. We'll definitely see more and more screw caps on wine, but while determining the quality we should mainly focus on what's inside a bottle not how it is closed.

Cork or screw cap, find both at our webshop. Enjoy and cheers!

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