How to keep a wine at its best.
Is the re-assuring “pwop” of the cork coming out of a bottle an essential part of your wine-drinking pleasure, or do you prefer the ease and simplicity of just twisting the screwtop? In fact, ease of opening the bottle is the least important role of the seal, which is there purely to keep air – more specifically oxygen – out of the wine and there is no doubt that a screwtop does this better than a cork. In addition, unless there is scrupulous hygiene in the bottling plant, about 3% of corks can contain a chemical that completely and quickly ruins the wine, producing the unfortunately well-known “corked” bottle. So surely screwtops, which keep the wine fresher and fruitier for longer and do not spoil one bottle in 36, have to be the closure of choice?
If only the world of wine was that simple! Most wine improves with age, up to a year or so for most everyday types but 20 years or more for the finest of clarets and burgundies. And one of the (admittedly many) reasons why fine wine changes for the better as it gets older is minute quantities of oxygen getting into the wine and initiating chemical changes. This means that the perfect air seal is actually a bad thing for a wine that needs to age for many years. A quality cork seems to allow just the right number of oxygen molecules into the wine each year, which is why corks will be around for some time to come.
However, screwtops have now been developed that will allow tiny quantities of air into the wine over a long period, and several of the top Bordeaux chateaux are experimenting with this technique. Don’t hold your breath waiting to buy a screwtop bottle of Chateau Lafite – fine wines take years to age to perfection and so must the trial. Corks will be with us for a long time yet.
But for the 90% of wines which are best drunk within 2 years of the vintage – just about everything under £10 and many of those under £20 – the reliable screwtop has to be preferred to the traditional, but sometimes dodgy, cork.
Come and taste wines with corks and screwtops at our next wine tasting event.