Corks or Screwcaps?

by | May 1, 2022 | Cellar Chat

Corks or screwcaps? Haven’t we all read or heard of the pros and cons for each?  After all, we know there is a serious need to severely regard the oxidation process. In essence, the romance of the cork is giving way to the more sterile (in more ways than one) screwcap.

Ignoring the details, what does history show us? Firstly, corks were used way back by the ancient Egyptians. Corks only came into their own for bottles in the late 17th century. Until then cloth, leather, oiled rags, clay and sealing wax were popular closures. The first written reference to a corkscrew, in English, is dated 1681. Many regard the English as the first to use corks. This was for stopping cider and beer bottles.  

The spiral corkscrew was attributed to a German, Herr Weinke, and it was called a ‘bottle screw’. The English could not pronounce his name so he was regarded as  Mr ‘Wine Key’ and as a name that stuck, together with ‘bottle screw’ for many years. Screwcap closures were known in the late 1950s and in 2001 the New Zealand wine authorities introduced an initiative to change from corks to screwcaps thereby setting an international trend.  By the way, cork comes from a species of oak tree called ‘Quercus suber ‘and has a rough or ‘knobbily’ but soft bark. At the car park behind Woolworths is a row of five trees down the centre. The two trees nearest to Woolies are, I fancy (?) ‘cork oaks ‘. Try the thumbnail test to see how soft the bark is! 

I have always been both amazed and impressed by how wine producers often help each other.   Perhaps it is because so many of them studied at the same seat of learning? It is not uncommon to lend or borrow such items as filter membranes, couplings, pumps and corks.   In one instance I know of, even wine. I recall that some years back a winery, that will remain nameless, had a tank of Sauvignon Blanc which had stopped fermenting. The neighbour, also nameless, offered a bucket of their own happily fermenting Sauvignon which was added to the luckless tank thereby kick-starting the fermentation process. How friendly can you get!

When the original restaurant in Chamonix hosted whisky promotions I managed to secure a visit to Chivas Regal at Strathisla in Scotland for a forthcoming trip to the UK. Once there I was privileged to be shown around by their export manager and was surprised by the similarities between the production of whisky and wine. After the tour, I was asked if I would like to see their maturation cellar. Why not indeed?  Their barrels were housed in a long wooden barn on an adjacent property. What I saw inside was unexpected. Amongst the barrels of Chives Regal were randomly placed barrels from other whiskey producers. I saw Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, Glenlivet and Balvenie among others.” Why do you mature your competition ? “. I asked. I was told that if I were to visit Glenfiddich for instance, I would find Chives Regal amongst their barrels too.  “It is a sort of insurance against fire” I was told. Not to mention an example! of inter – cellar cooperation!

Cheer ’till next time.