Wine Debate: Corks v. Screw Caps


Recently I held a tasting of Ribera del Duero wines at a retail store. I really enjoy getting the chance to directly connect with the public—it brings me back to reality.

So here I was standing behind the tasting bar, smiling sweetly when an already irate gentleman approached the counter. The exchange went like this.
“Good evening! Would you like to taste some wines from Ribera del Duero?”
“Why don’t your wines have screwcaps?!”
“Well sir, in fact I only represent these wines, they come from many importers and multiple different wineries, so I do not actually bottle them myself.”
“That’s a horrible thing for the consumer! They should be in screw cap! It’s un-American!”
“Well yes sir, in fact these wines are from the Ribera del Duero region. In SPAIN.” I was beginning to enjoy this.

Long story short, I endured a twenty-minute diatribe about the perils of cork. Don’t get me wrong, I am not 100% pro cork, but in the interest of a true debate I had to take the side of cork. I could easily have argued the other side, but as in almost every aspect of wine the answer is really, “It depends.” The interaction made me think, though, that perhaps we have been too vocal in the past few years regarding the death of the cork. It’s like when you’ve dating someone and then break up and go off about how horrid they are. They change and you get back together, but your friends still want to hate them.

I feel like we as an industry overplayed the "cork is evil, screw cap is good" message and now the consumer has the wrong idea. The exercise was good because it got the cork industry to sit up, take notice, and make real changes. It got wineries to improve quality control both in the winery and at bottling. It gave value wines with innovative packaging a chance. Things have changed, though, and we should not fault wineries that decide to use cork. I do not have scientific proof, but I feel there are fewer corked wines out there. But don’t forget that wines with screw caps can have flaws, like reduction or stinky off odors. Wine, as any product, is imperfect, and there is room for all closures. In the event that you get a flawed wine, return it. Even leader of the Death of the Cork movement Randall Grahm says, "I am likewise also trying very hard to maintain some tolerance for corks, i.e. not be an arrant corkist." But Grahm continues to use 100% screw caps for many reasons. Back when I too was preaching about the evils of cork, I never thought I would say it, but I think it's time we give cork another chance.

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