How do you like your wine to be secured, with a cork or a screw cap? There are pros and cons to each. Let’s find out about them.
Can’t find a corkscrew?
The problem with cork stoppers for wine bottles is that corkscrews can sometimes be elusive. Have you ever rummaged around in a cluttered drawer trying to find a corkscrew? They somehow have an annoying habit of retiring to the furthest and darkest recesses of drawers, making themselves virtually invisible. Then when you’ve located your precious corkscrew, the screw part snaps in the cork, leaving you with the problem of how to get at the red or white liquid in the bottle. Very frustrating! However, such problems test a wine-lover’s ingenuity.
Alternative to cork
Screw caps pose fewer problems on the whole. Our main problem with them is that they aren’t as aesthetically pleasing to traditionalists, who prefer corks as stoppers for wine bottles.
The lightweight aluminium screw cap is easily recycled and can be made into new screw caps ad infinitum, a metal cap is a sustainable product. Although they might not be as aesthetically pleasing as natural cork, they can be more efficiently recycled, as corks typically end up in landfills. Also at recycling plants it’s difficult to separate plastic corks and natural ones.
What is cork?
Cork is a natural material as you’ll know if you’ve ever travelled through a cork tree forest in Portugal or Spain. However, the material could soon be scarce if there are more wildfires in the Iberian Peninsula. Of course, there are cheaper alternatives to natural cork wine stoppers, but they are not as good as the real thing. The main problem with cork is that it can taint the wine, and the same is true for the cheaper alternatives to corks.
The history of screw caps
When did we start to use the screw cap for wine bottles? In 1889, Dan Rynalds from Yorkshire applied for a patent for a screw cap for whiskey bottles. Unfortunately his screw caps didn’t take off because the metal cap was in direct contact with the alcohol in the bottle which caused it to corrode. This problem was resolved when Le Bouchage Mechanique came up with the aluminium screw cap in the 1960s after having been approached by Peter Wall who worked at the Australian Yalumba winery. This is known as the Stelvin screwcap. It was an innovation produced from the Stelcap design, which had a circular piece of cork under the cap. The Stelvin cap was protected from coming into contact with the wine by a wadding that had been chemically treated. In the late 1960s through to the 1970s laboratory trials were held in Switzerland to test the efficiency of the caps.
Screw caps are popular in the Antipodes
With strong Australian roots, it's probably no surprise that the screw cap really took off in Australia and New Zealand in 2001 with the Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative. By 2003, wine with screw caps was outselling wine with corks in New Zealand and in the same year Australians consumed the most wine from screw cap bottles. Antipodeans really went for the screw cap wine bottles, and it’s probably only a matter of time before others do. Plastic bottles with screw caps have the advantage of being lighter to carry than glass bottles and there’s no need to play ‘hunt the corkscrew’ before you open a bottle of wine.