Does it REALLY matter if the wine has a cork in it?
One of the biggest romances of drinking wine is the act of popping the cork; cutting around the foil or diving into the wax, slowly lifting the cork out of the mouth of the bottle, culminating in a lip-smacking “pop.” But now we’re seeing more and more wines that have a screw cap or other enclosures, like a soda can or an apple juice. Rather than a pop you get a crack, hiss, or ding, it’s not as exciting. But the real question here is: “Does that mean the bottle is cheap?”
Let me start off by saying that the way a wine bottle is enclosed does not have anything to do with the price. It is simply a choice made by the winemaker.
There are several different bottle enclosures that winemakers use every day that aren’t your average natural cork. There are synthetic corks, screw caps, VinoLoks, Zorks, cans, bottle caps, you name it! Now of course we all know that corks are traditional, but did you know that they can be really hard to come by?
Cork comes from cork trees from the mediterranean. Every year farmers go out and strip these trees of some of their bark, which is the cork we use for bottles, cork boards, and even shoes! After you strip the tree, you need to wait a minimum of 9 years before using that tree's bark again. The reason why we’ve been using cork for so long is because it is a natural preservation enhancer.
Cork is porous. All of the holes allow for slight oxygen ingression. In order to keep a wine aging properly, rather than keeping it contained entirely without any oxygen, the cork allows for smooth aging with additions of slight amounts of oxygen coming through the cork. Pretty neat!
Now what does that mean for the other caps. Depending on the goal of the wine maker, the cost can be important, and also the “look.” Wine, though beautiful and interesting and historic, is—when it comes down to it— a commodity. Winemakers want to make their wine most appealing to consumers, and they want to do it in a monetarily worthy fashion.
Some wine is made to be drank young. A sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is going to be much more refreshing and delicious at a ripe age of 1-2 years than it would be if it was 10 years old. Beaujolais Nouveau is specifically released just about 3 months after it is harvested on the third Thursday of November (coincidence that it tastes delicious with turkey?!). Wines that don’t need age might work best with a VinoLok or a screw cap, or maybe even will do best in a can. They’re cheaper, easier, and appealing because you can basically take them anywhere and open up! Screw cap is also a viable option because if the bottle is really expensive, and there is not a lot of this wine made, it decreases chances of TCA. It might actually be the more successful option!
Not all screw cap (VinoLok, Zork etc.) wines are under $30. In fact there are several producers who are using screw caps for their wines that are over $100 a bottle.
So I guess what I’m saying is, don't look at the cork as what makes a wine good. Look up the producer, check out the vintage, take a glance at the story on the back side of the bottle. If you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, you aren’t supposed to just judge a wine by its bottle. Some of the most simple looking bottles are the most delicious wines in the world.