Right now, as you read this, families are divided, brother against brother, sister against sister, cat against dog. What is polarizing the world, causing nations to crumble and friends to get slightly upset at other friends? The cork vs. screw top debate — that’s what. You may have heard statements like: Corks are old fashion, like a horse and buggy in the age of the automobile. Or: Screw tops are cheap, like an H&M sweater; they’re a fad. But who is right? On which side should you take up arms? Well struggle no longer. Wine Awesomeness has implored scholars and a guy who kind of looks like a scholar; we’ve forced down liter after liter of wine in the hopes of uncovering this ancient mystery. So please, put down your mace and flail and lend us your ear, because today the battle ends.
Let’s start at the beginning: the cork, well technically the cork tree (who knew, right?). Corks are made from cork oak (Quercus suber), which are native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. The tree forms a thick layer of bark that once it reaches the right thickness is harvested and processed into wine corks, as well as flooring and a ton of other useful stuff. What’s truly unique about this process is that unlike almost all other products made from trees, cork is a completely renewable resource. The harvesting of cork doesn’t damage the tree and so they are left uncut and allowed to continue to grow and provide a habitat for a number of endangered species. Not as wasteful as you thought, huh?
Next, we have the vile, despicable screw top, coming in and trying to disrupt the industry. But where did they come from? From what pit did this scoundrel crawl out of? New Zealand?! Really? Yep, those mild-mannered, dreadlocked Kiwis are responsible for turning the wine world on its head. But why? Why veer from tradition? Like most innovation, the answer was necessity. Since cork is only stripped in nine-year intervals, a spike in demand doesn’t equate to a quick turnaround on the supply, so the cork companies weren’t necessarily scrambling to provide the developing areas of the wine-producing world (like New Zealand) with the best corks. This meant that these regions were receiving subpar corks that were more likely to produce cork taint. Not wanting their juice to taste like wet, moldy newspaper, the New Zealand wineries decided to take matters into their own hands and began using screwtops. The idea of screw tops for wine had existed since the 1970s but consumers had been slow to accept change. And how do you change the minds of consumers? Through clever marketing of course. New Zealand winemakers teamed up with their Australian counterparts and began the brilliant campaign known as The International Screw Top Initiative, which launched a dual front: focusing not only on consumers but also targeting the producers. Skip forward a decade and a half and we have the “overnight success” of screw tops.
So what’s the WA crew’s opinion of screw tops? We don’t care! We could give two spits if Saran Wrap covers the tops of bottles as long as the juice inside is awesome. For wines that are meant to be consumed young, like whites, rosés, and fresh styles of reds, screw tops are perfect because these wines don’t need to breathe. For wines that need a little age to come together, corks are really the only way to go for now; however, we’ve heard talk of a breathable screw top in the works. The way we see it, whatever is new is always scary, and many people are so stuck in doing things the way they’ve always been done that they have a hard time accepting unfamiliar technology. Kind of like my grandfather, who in the late 80s claimed that computers were a fad. Sorry Grandpa, but I can’t waste two hours a day watching videos of dancing babies on an abacus.
So, what did we learn through all of this? We learned that sometimes there isn’t an answer, sometimes it’s the question that creates the conflict. It’s not corks vs. screw tops; it’s corks AND screw tops!