CORKS, Synthetic corks and Screwcaps

Have you ever wondered about corks, synthetic corks, screwcaps and which is the best to buy? If so, read on!

It is not an easy question and the explanations are varied. So, I thought a little history would help to understand why we are having these current problems with corks which lead to much wine being lost through “cork taint” (Wikipedia explanation).

Firstly, it is generally accepted in the wine world that the best closures are still made from  high quality real cork. However, the price of high quality real cork is currently such that wines which retail for less than £12 per bottle make it financially unrealistic to use them. Wines which need to be laid down for many years will continue to use real, high quality, cork. Their ultimate price is high!

Quality cork at a reasonable price is currently unavailable and alternatives need to be found. The obvious alternative is the high quality synthetic cork.

High quality synthetic corks are similar to real corks in the short term. They look very similar. They are very tactile. They are expensive, but still cheaper than high quality real cork. However, it is becoming clear that they do not stand up well to being laid down for a long periods of time, i.e. 15 years or longer.

The other alternative is screwcaps. Screwcaps have a lot to be said for them once the consumer gets over the fact that you open a bottle of wine like a bottle of pop!

They are easy to use. You can screw the top back on again if the bottle is not finished, and for everyday wines, appear to be the best choice, especially for whites and rosés.

However, screwcaps do not age well. There is no movement of air within the bottle. This means that you can get a whiff of reduction. Reduction is a wine fault which comes about when the wine cannot breathe. It smells like rotten eggs. It is relatively easy to deal with if not too far gone. It just needs airing, or decanting. Leave for 1/2 hour or so and it will go – it disappears into thin air!

The reason behind all this hullabaloo dates back to just after WWII.

The production of cork oak trees comes mainly from a tiny area in the southern part of the Portuguese/Spanish border. It takes about 50 years for a cork oak to produce quality cork. The harvest takes place once every 9 years.

During the years after the war, the worldwide production of wine literally exploded. At first, the producers of cork oak were allowed to cut the bark from a lower area on the tree than was previously allowed before the war. A benchmark of between 30-50 cms above ground level was set under which the quality of the cork is considerably lower. It was allowed for a short period of time to enable the financially crippled producers to meet the demand.

However, wine production continued to increase. Cork producers were, therefore, allowed to cut the cork closer and closer to the base of the tree. The quality of cork suffered.

The Australians were actually the nation who decided that something had to be done about the dire quality of cork. They had spent an enormous amount of money on producing quality wines, only to find that the cork stopper was tainted.They basically invented the screwcap for wine. However, the studies are recent and it is still not clear how long the wine will keep under screwcap.

The French are very much more conservative. Many areas continue to use real cork closures. Many have gone over to high quality synthetic cork closures.

The wines at AmandasWines (our wines at a glance) are mainly under synthetic cork closures but also some are real cork.

Remember to always buy quality wines. This does not mean they are the most famous or expensive wines.