Friday, December 5, 2008


In an comment yesterday Chris MacDonald raised the hot topic of closures cork, screwcap etc. (well, it's a hot topic for wine lovers anyway). There are a lot of issues around closures - cost, convenience, how does it affect wine aging, etc. Chris raised the question of environmental impact to start things off. I've re-posted Chris' comment below, in this thread. But I'm going to abuse my power as blogmaster to strat things off with what I see as the main issue: cork taint. No one would be even thinking about screwcap for fancy wine if it wasn't for cork taint.

Personally I don't care much one way or the other about the closure for wine I intend to drink right away. Cork taint isn't much of an issue because ANBL has such a good return policy (though it's definitely annoying to bring a bottle to a dinner party and have it turn out to be corked).

But for fancy wine that I intend to cellar for a few years, cork taint is a real problem. I've read that something like 5%-10% of wines with a cork closure are affected by cork taint, and that pretty much reflects my personal experience. To me, that's a big problem. Fancy wine is expensive already - it's that much harder to put down $40 or $100 for a bottle of wine knowing that there is a 1 in 10 chance that it's undrinkable. And it's not just the money, but the disappointment when you pull out a special bottle that has been in the cellar for years and is now irreplaceable - and it turns out to be corked.

With that said, my understanding is that there are still questions about how well a wine will age with a screwcap closure. And Kelly and I haven't had as many corked bottle recently. I don't know if that's because the quality of corks is going up, or if we've just had a lucky streak.

Anyway, what kind of experience has everyone else had with corked wine? I've started the comments with Chris's original comment, that I grabbed from the "Make a Suggestion" thread.


  1. Here is Chris's comment from the "Make a Suggestion" thread:

    I would love to know what you think about wine bottle closures. Natural cork, synthetic, stelvin etc... Lets start the debate with the latest on-line article from Decanter by Sally Easton;

    A year-long life cycle analysis (LCA) of the environmental impact of cork, plastic and aluminium screwcap stoppers has found what is already widely accepted: that cork is the most environmentally-friendly stopper.

    The was study undertaken by analysts PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by Amorim, the world's largest cork manufacturer.
    The report found plastic stoppers, including the plastic capsule that goes over the top of the bottle, are nine times more damaging to the environment - and aluminium screwcaps are twenty-two times - than cork stoppers, including corks with a plastic capsule.

    The LCA included an evaluation of a plastic capsule designed for both cork and plastic stoppers to compare 'like with like' against screwcaps, which do not need a plastic capsule.

    The first independent survey comparing all three main types of wine bottle stopper, the study was conducted in accordance with
    ISO (International Standards Organisation) protocols which require peer
    review, and involved representatives from manufacturers of the other types of closures as well as a life cycle analysis expert.

    It calculated various environmental impacts: non-renewable energy consumption, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric acidification, formation of photochemical oxidants which cause ozone layer depletion, the production of solid waste, and the eutrophication (loss of animal life) of surface water.

    Of the seven environmental impacts studied, cork performed best on six of them. But performance was only second-best on water consumption."

  2. Adam Lechmere

    It's official: screwcap is the best closure for the vast majority of wines, both red and white.

    This is the opinion of Decanter magazine's most senior contributors, from Steven Spurrier to Linda Murphy in California and Huon Hooke in Australia, tastings director Christelle Guibert and restaurant critic Brian St Pierre.

    In an article entitled '50 Reasons to Love Screwcaps' in the August issue of the magazine, our wine experts are unequivocal.

    'Given the choice of the same wine with screwcap or cork, I'd choose the screwcap every time,' Sunday Times wine writer Joanna Simon writes.

    And her sentiments are echoed by Spurrier – 'the Stelvin is one of the best things to have happened to wine in my lifetime'; Hooke – 'for delicate young white wines…the screwcap is the best closure we have'; Charles Metcalfe – 'in short, they deliver your wine from the bottle in the state that the producer intended.'

    Each critic lists their top five wines under screwcap – and they are by no means all white.

    Spurrier's list includes a Marchand-Burch Pinot Noir from Western Australia, Murphy the Rhone blend Bonny Doon Cigare Volant Red, Guibert the Summerhouse 2005 Pinot from Marlborough and a south of France Carignan, while Anthony Rose chose the St Hallett Gamekeeper's Reserve Shiraz-Grenache from Barossa.

    Rose, wine critic for the Independent newspaper as well as a veteran Decanter contributor is one of the most outspoken exponents of screwcap: 'the time for alternative closures is overdue…the screwcap is not a cheap alternative to cork but a genuine quality closure in its own right.'

    But there is a caveat: Decanter may champion screwcap even for many robust reds, but on the subject of ageing wines, the jury is still out.

    Huon Hooke says, 'Many believe full-bodied reds aged long-term under cork build better character than under any other other closure…' and Decanter tastings manager Mark O'Halleron agrees, saying he's a 'huge fan of corks' and recognising 'their proven ability to age fine wines.'

    But the overwhelming tide of opinion is in favour of screwcap - and Brian St Pierre even introduces a political note.

    Railing against the need for 'hardware' and pompous sommeliers sniffing corks ('a redundant stunt no-one can pull off without looking silly') he concludes, 'Best of all, screwcaps are a nicely democratic reminder that wine should be a pleasure, not a performance.'

  3. Interesting article, but the caveat about aging potential is huge. To me that's a big question. Screwcap is great for anything meant to drink young, but what about aging? Also, what about short or medium term ageing. I've found that many fruity Aussie Shiraz, for example, improve quite a bit with just two or three years age - will that improvement happen under a screwcap?

  4. I like cork. There’s something appealing about the ritual of uncorking a wine and the notion of using a natural, renewable resource. But ultimately, I don’t think the relative environmental impact of alternative closures is nearly significant enough for me to choose a wine closure on any basis but function. To put things into perspective using numbers from the Amorim study, a trip to ANBL in any sort of car produces approximately the same amount of CO2 as you’d offset by purchasing an entire case (12 bottles) of wine closed with cork rather than aluminum – and that’s if your trip is less than 2 km. Did junior soil his nappy while you were reading this? That’s 3 more bottles you need to buy. Did you drink a can of soda or box of juice or eat a tub of yoghurt or a papaya today? I think you see what I’m getting at here. Descriptors such as “nine times more damaging” obscure the magnitude of the environmental impact we’re talking about, which is very small in the context of other choices most people make daily without thought.

    As for the study itself, it does not account for the failure rates of the closures it examines. If a closure fails and the wine must be discarded, the environmental impacts of entire life cycle of that wine should be attributed to the closure. I haven’t seen numbers for wine, but the NY Times reported today on study in which PepsiCo found that 1.7 kg of CO2 is produced in the manufacture of a carton of its orange juice. That’s more than 50 times the environmental difference between cork and aluminum closures, and more than 150 times the difference between cork and plastic. If wine is in this ballpark – and chances are that it is – then the truth is that rather than opposing environmental considerations, failure rate is the single most important factor determining a closure’s environmental impact.

    Here is an article about research on oxygen transmission rates (OTR) of various closures. What I find interesting is its suggestion that the best closure may vary with characteristics of the wine in question, according to factors such as cellaring time, grape varieties, and what style and characteristics the winemaker wants to express: “[I]f more is known about how specific levels of oxygen affect wine development, then using a pre-bottling analysis of the concentration of certain compounds, a winemaker might hypothetically use a closure with a moderate OTR to bring out citrus and lime flavors in a Sauvignon Blanc; or a medium OTR to create the right expression of melon flavor; or even a closure with a high OTR to highlight "toastiness" in a wine…a low OTR to best express black currant notes in a Cabernet Sauvignon, or a closure with a medium OTR to highlight blackberry plum notes.”

  5. Here is the Amorim study, for those of you who want to check out all of its 127 pages, 24 tables, and 14 figures.

  6. very interesting. while i love the feel and idea of cork, and of saving enough corks to make a Christmas wreath of corks (it looks really nice btw), I'm more interested in a wine that tastes good/is well preserved. gee..i guess i am a pragmatist...

  7. Indeed, that's why I'm so delighted with my analysis: the best closure for taste/preservation is also necessarily best for the environment.

    I used the corks from our wedding wine to seal holes in the clapboard where where insulation was blown into our house. Don't tell Norman.

  8. Great discussion. I hate Cork, I have had too many bottles of wine ruined by cork. I am unsure of the long term aging ability of screw closures, but I am wiling to take a risk.

  9. As an indicator of the general consensus from my experience serving wine, many customers will at least comment on a screw cap, while some turn their noses up at capped wines, and in one case I had a customer opt to order a different bottle - with a cork. To make things worse, most of these pro-cork traditionalists don`t want to hear about the upsides of the screwcap.

    Personally, I don`t care. I will be happy as long as the wine is good, although there is something fun about a cork that has enough sediment on it to draw my girlfreind a picture with. She loves when I act like a 5 year old...

  10. The thing about having wine in a restaurant is that if it is corked you can send it back - you enjoy the ritual without any risk. But if you cellar wine, it's different. I'm still scarred from the time I opened three nice bottles in a row that were corked. That was a lot of money down the drain (literally). I expect that's why bloggers have a different view of closures from restaurant goers.