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Screw top versus wine cork – which is better?

The screw top vs wine cork debate is nothing new, but which is better? From environmental impact to cost, here are the pros and cons of each.
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OK, time to settle an age-old debate – which is better: wine cork or screw top wine bottles? We delve deep into the pros and cons of both to settle once and for all the screw top vs wine cork argument – and the result might surprise you.

As a wine drinker, you’ve probably already familiar with the fact that some bottles have corks while others have screw tops, but have you ever wondered why? Many people hold the opinion that wine corks have been used for centuries and therefore are better than the more modern screw top. Rather than politely listening to a mate yabber on about the subject, it’s time to arm yourself with some facts.

Wine corks – pros and cons

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Wine corks are an effective wine seal made from cork bark and have been pretty much the standard in stoppering wine bottles for over 300 years. They stop air getting into the wine and spoiling it (though tiny amounts of air may still sneak through).

While cork has been used for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 17th century that it was first used to seal wine bottles. It’s cheap, abundant and easy to manufacture nature has seen cork bottle stops soar in popularity. Each cork tree produces enough cork for around 4,000 bottles.

Wine cork pros

  • Environmentally-friendly – cork is a renewable resource making them eco-friendly, biodegradable and recyclable. The Mediterranean cork forests absorb millions of tonnes of CO2 every year and house some of the world’s most diverse wildlife.
  • Preservation – cork is designed to preserve wine for a long time – a 20 bottle vintage from 1789 discovered in 1956 was fully preserved and drinkable – though you need to avoid cork taint.
  • Tradition – wine corks are viewed by many as the time-honoured way of sealing a bottle. Their widespread usage in France, Spain and Italy means that wine cork bottles are often romanticised (incorrectly) as the only wines of value.

Wine cork cons

  • Transport emissions – cork isn’t all green good news. As it grows in only a few regions, shipping it to wineries around the world means a hefty contribution to carbon emissions.
  • Cork taint – one of the biggest issues with cork. When the cork is exposed to a chemical called TCA, the flavour of the wine can be affected, making it smell damp or a bit like a wet dog.
  • Unpredictability – cork is a variable material, meaning that no one wine cork is the same as another. This can affect wine flavours, especially if a cork lets too much air into the bottle.

How long does white win last once opened screw top

Synthetic corks – pros and cons

Synthetic corks are trying to muscle their way into the wine sealing debate, and who can blame them. Synthetic corks aren’t made from cork bark but other materials, such as plastic (cue environmental klaxon alarm sounds).

Synthetic corks pros

  • Inexpensive – sure, plastic corks are cheaper to roll off the manufacturing line, but it’s unlikely you’ll be pocketing the savings.
  • Long-life – plastic corks have a half-life measured in decades to centuries, which can help keep the wine in tip-top condition.
  • No TCA – there’s no risk of your wine being spoilt as synthetic corks aren’t prone to TCA chemicals.

Synthetic corks cons

  • Poor green credentials – synthetic plastic corks aren’t biodegradable, many are not recyclable, and they’re created from oil-based materials.
  • Resealing difficulties – once you’ve opened the bottle, it can be tough to reseal it again with a plastic cork.
  • No expansion – synthetic corks don’t expand in the bottle like natural corks do, potentially leading to gaps and unwanted leakage.

Screw tops – pros and cons

Sealing wine bottles with a metal screw cap, usually made of aluminium, isn’t new, having been in use since the 1990s. Australia and New Zealand were pioneers of the screw top and a high percentage of wines from this region are now topped with a screw cap.

Yet these new kids on the block have had a bit of a bad rap, so we reckon it’s time that wine lovers gave them a fair shake. Screw top wines have a whole host of benefits that could make them the ideal wine choice for summer’s evening party or a sit-down family meal, though they are admittedly less useful hanging from hats.

Screw top pros

  • Easy to seal – ever tried to refit a stubborn cork into the neck of a bottle. No worries with screw tops, mate. They’re easy to reseal a bottle, making it far more convenient to make a wonderful red or zesty white linger a little longer.
  • Consistent flavour – screw-top wines aren’t at risk of exposing the wine to TCA, so there’s less chance of them spoiling the wine’s flavour. This means you can enjoy your favourite wines without the risk of encountering an off-tasting mouthful.
  • Environmentally sound – similar to soft drink cans, aluminium is infinitely recyclable. It’s a naturally occurring metal that is extremely lightweight, is easily transported and reusing aluminium takes just 5% of the energy it takes to make a new item. It can also be made locally, meaning few transportation emissions and a low carbon footprint.

Screw top cons

  • Ageing – a controversial topic, but some people view the superior seal of a screw top as preventing some oxygen from interacting with wine. This can, some wine drinkers insist, mean that the wine doesn’t age properly. Not that RedHeads wines hang around long enough!
  • Production – while aluminium is recyclable, not everyone diligently recycles screw tops and some caps have plastic components. Aluminium production can involve strip mining, making it even more important to do your bit and recycle.

how long does red wine last once opened screw top

Screw tops vs wine corks – which is better?

You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – nor should you judge a wine by its stopper.

However, while there are clear, age-old benefits for choosing cork, we’d favour screw tops any day of the week.

Wine flavour, consistency and storage make screw tops hands-down winners. Add in reduced carbon emissions from transport and the fact screw tops can be happily recycled along with your glass wine bottle make them our 21st Century wine keeping heroes.

And fair enough, there will always be those who like the pop of a wine cork. Just smile politely, tune out and pour yourself another drop of one of our fantastic Australian wines (with a screw top, naturally).

At RedHeads, we offer a variety of top wines such as our intensely fruity Coco Rôtie Shiraz / Viognier, our vibrant Harmonie Rox Chardonnay, and our characterful MC1R: Rouge Pinot Noir/Shiraz.

Frequently asked questions

How long does screw-top red wine last once opened?

For full-bodied red wines, they can last up to five days if stored in a cool, dark place like the fridge, fitted with either a screw top or cork.

How long does screw-top white wine last once opened?

It depends. White wine varies in its longevity. Lighter white wines only last up to five when sealed with a screw top in the fridge.