The great debate - screwcap, cork or Vino-lok
Once the hot discussion of serious wine enthusiasts and collectors over the dinner table, there is now a greater acceptance for alternative innovation over the humble cork when it comes to optimal wine closure.
The case for cork:
From as long ago as the Ancient Greeks and also Ancient Egypt, cork has been used as a seal for wine that is bottled in glass. Known even then for the natural prowess of blocking the evil gas of oxygen from entering the most prestigious of bottles (and other liquids besides), the closely packed micro-structure of the bark makes it especially impermeable to gases and most other liquids.
The more modern cork era was born in northern Spain, and it is grown also in northern Africa and in places like Sardinia. Since the 21st Century however the Portuguese have owned this market with some 1.77 million acres of cork trees, representing 34% of the world’s total plantings. From the bark of these trees, which should be at least 25 years old to prove effective, corks of different shapes and sizes are configured.
The main complaint with cork is cork taint – otherwise known as TCA, or trichloro anisole as it is more technically known. The presence of this within the cork itself is what gives a wine it’s ‘corked’ aroma – identifiable as being similar to the smells of wet dog, damp newspaper or mould and must - affecting the flavour profile of the very wine it is seeking to protect.
Corks come in various lengths and sizes – the longer in length, the longer it should last to protect the wine – so the idea goes. Some high profile wineries such as Penfolds now also offer re-corking clinics, although this is now rarely practiced in Bordeaux as a method to curtail wine fraud.
The case for screwcap:
Though much eschewed by traditionalists, there presents a strong case for believing and buying into the screwcap – or ‘stelvin’ as the branded name is often known. First introduced to the world by the French and then readily adopted by many Australian and New Zealand wineries for reasons that include not spoiling their respective styles of wine that would be particularly affected by cork taint (Riesling in particular). Today, though still not without some snobbery towards this easier to open closure, you only have to look to the quality of wines provided by notable estates around the world who are keen adopters of this technology.
Esteemed Burgundian apologists Ten Minutes by Tractor in Australia’s Mornington Peninsula are keen champions of the closure – a region well connected with the screwcap, as well as cult-winemakers Jermann in ‘old-world’ Alto-Adige in Italy. Jermann in particular have been pioneers of the screwcap from the outset – a notable decision in their often cork-focused world. And yet, they are still widely considered one of Italy’s finest wine producers.
The case for Vinolok:
Not such a recent phenomenon, glass stoppers have been used to seal glass wine bottles since the 17th Century, using strings of thread to facilitate their opening. While the practice died out during the 19th century, it has since been resurrected amongst brands in recent times as a viable bottle closure - and for certain brands, perhaps re-introduced as a way of providing something a little bit different for their customers. The Vinolok has come into the winemaking world most notably among premium rosé offerings, including wine brand Maison 9, founded by American rap artist, Post Malone. Ironically even Sandeman 30 year old Tawny Port now has a Vinolok closure. Why? Are they even recyclable? Computer says ‘yes’. More fragile perhaps, but a better environmental option than the screwcap, which must be fully removed to allow the bottles to be recycled.
Sophie McLean DipWSET, Wine and Travel Writer.