The Great Screw Cap V. Cork Debate

If you’re a wine drinker, you’ve heard the question asked at least once. Why do some wines have cork stoppers and others use screw caps? Do you know the answer? I didn’t until just a few years ago when I started consuming Layer Cake, and other wines that use screw caps.

Aside from the obvious benefit of not having to use or carry a corkscrew, I wanted to find out exactly what the benefits are and why wine brands are committed to one method of sealing over another. To get the scoop I reached out to the guy who runs Layer Cake Wines, General Manager John.

What are the benefits of using a screw cap vs. a cork?

1) If applied correctly, screw caps have zero spoilage. Wine is susceptible to many faults. Cork is a common source of TCA, a molecule that causes, in light cases, the fruit to be muted, and in bad cases, a horrible wet and musty cardboard smell; the common term for TCA tainted wines is “corked”.

2) Screw caps do not require a special tool to open the bottle.

3) Inexpensive and non-perishable (corks dry out over time in storage and become unusable).

4) Cork screw caps act as closure and decoration. With a cork, you then have to put a capsule on as well.

Are all Layer Cake Wines done with screw caps?

Yes, it was something that caused some dissension among the trade buyers in 2005. When we started, some buyers refused to buy the wine because it was under screw cap.  Eight years has brought the thinking around a full 180, now many sommeliers won’t buy wine for their By-the-Glass programs unless it does have screw cap because it’s so easy to use a re-seal. Plus they don’t have to train bartenders to test bottles for TCA anymore, something that can take years to learn and without a keen sense of smell, is sometimes never learned.

Does a screw cap diminish the quality of the wine?

There is no evidence to say it does, I have personally tasted wines that were specifically put away for the purpose of tasting later.  We have tasted wines with different types of screw cap (there are various permeability’s of seal available) next to their cork counterparts.  If anything, the only complaint was that the wines were in suspended animation, almost no aging had occurred at all in the non-permeable sealed caps.  The wines with the slightly permeable membranes (to mimic a cork’s slight breathability) aged almost identically to the cork finished wines.  And as if on cue, several of the cork-finished wine were “corked”, yet none of the wines with screw caps had been tainted at all.

Looking into the future, do you think more wine makers will move toward screw caps?

Yes, and no. 

As for other winemakers, who knows? Some have experimented with putting screw caps on their $100+ Cabernets, but it ends up mostly being a gimmick, when people buy super high-end wines, they still expect to pull out a four century old tool and yank out that compressed piece of tree bark with the celebratory sound we all know.

For Layer Cake Wines, yes, we will always use a screw cap, or perhaps some other innovative packaging that comes along. But for wines like our Hundred Acre Single Vineyard cult wines, we seek out the best cork in the world, test it extensively for TCA, and use it with great pride…I doubt that will change anytime soon.

So there you have it. Next time you’re at a party or bar and hear someone debating the great screw cap v. cork debate, jump on in.

Submitted by Layer Cake Wines fan, Tara Hardesty