Does the way we seal our wines really make a difference?

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Two bottles of wine - one with a screw cap and the other with a cork
Credit: Getty Images / ClausAlwinVogel

Wine comes in a variety of styles, colors and flavors. In fact, that's one of the things we love about it (here's what you should know about your favorite wines). There are wines for every price point—including these awesome bottles for less than $15—and every occasion. It even boasts some health benefits. (We'll cheers to that!)

Though wine is versatile and universal, it can also be highly specific and polarizing. People even have strong feelings about whether it tastes different if sold in a can (spoiler: it doesn't). Since many wines are traditionally sold with a cork, it might be tempting to write off screw top wines. But is one really better than the other? Or is there a difference in how it affects your wine? We looked at the pros and cons for both corks and screw cap wines. 

Wine Corks vs. Screw Caps: Which Is Better?

Corks 

Corks are the traditional way to seal off a bottle of wine after all the hard work and fermentation is done. Some sources say they have been used in Europe since the 1400s. Corks are made from cork bark, which is a naturally occurring substance. It is super malleable, making it perfect for keeping wine bottles closed until you want to drink them. It has been proven to hold up to long-term aging without compromising wine quality. 

However, there are some cons to using cork bark. Firstly, it is a limited natural resource. As more and more people produce wine in greater quantities, it is important to note that cork oak trees (the trees that grow cork bark) are finite in number. That said, cork bark is typically harvested without cutting down the whole tree and cork oak trees are not in crisis from wine cork production. Cork is also two to three times more expensive than screw caps, and breathes at variable rates so there is so rare chance that your bottle is not properly sealed and goes bad (this is often referred to as "TCA" or "cork taint"). 

Screw Caps 

The world of wine was introduced to screw caps in 1964 with mixed responses. Some countries, like Australia, have embraced the screw cap design with open arms. Other, more traditional growers are not as convinced, but this method has both pros and cons. 

The first upside of using screw caps is that they are a fraction of the price of corks, so it is a great option for vineyards looking to reduce the cost of packaging. They also don't run the risk of "cork taint" ruining their bottles. They are a little bit too new to the market to say for sure, but preliminary studies have shown that they have positive results for long-term aging. In fact, some studies have found that they actually preserve wine better than corks! They are also easy to open without any equipment and can be closed tightly. 

That said, there are some cons to screw caps, too. For starters, they don't allow the wines to breathe, which can influence the aging process. Though they are recyclable, they are not biodegradable and do not come from naturally occurring resources. Last but not least, they are often associated with "cheap" wines, which can create bias about the contents of the bottles. 

The Bottom Line 

There are upsides and downsides to both corks and screw caps. Screw caps might be more consistent, but they are not naturally occurring (though they can be recycled). One of the biggest hurdles with screw cap wines is that they are viewed as "cheaper" than cork alternatives. Corks are traditionally accepted, but they are more expensive and can cause cork taint in wines. All this is to say that one is not necessarily better than the other. Give screw cap wines a chance, but don't totally steer away from cork wines—especially if you are looking for something aged. Check out our Wine 101 page for more.