Since the inception of wine making, corks have been used because they preserve wine by allowing a minuscule amount of air for the wine to breathe. In the past few years, producers have used “twist-off” (screw-tops). Believe it or not, twist-offs accomplish the same task as corks with several advantages, raising the question of why are corks still used?
The major flaw in using corks to cap wines is the possibility of a “corked” bottle. A wine becomes “corked” when a chemical compound in cork, TCA, comes in contact with the wine and distorts its taste. This occurs in 5% of bottles with corks.
A corked bottle is noticeable upon opening. The odor of the wine will resemble that of a wet dog, moldy newspaper or damp basement.
If you have a corked bottle, you should not drink the wine (though it’s not harmful) and return the bottle for replacement. As a wine collector, you might say an occasional corked bottle is part and parcel of your wine budget. However, after losing a 10 year vintage from your cellar that is not returnable, you may not be so cavalier.
Twist-offs eliminate the possibility of a corked bottle and offer other advantages. Twist-offs can be reused for sealing an opened bottle. Additionally, the environmentalists would be thrilled if we stopped killing the cork trees in Portugal.
However, twist-offs unlike corks cannot provide the romance of opening a bottle of wine. Fancy wine openers, the foil and melodic sound of a popping cork are lost with twist-offs.
This brings us to the main obstacle for replacing corks, IMAGE! Twist-offs are associated with cheaper wines, many of the large bottle size. Twist-offs caps are here to stay as more producers continue to replace corks in their wines, including the expensive ones. New World producers (New Zealand 91%) are using twist-offs more extensively than Old World (Italy 2%). But the Old World producers are converting, as witness by exclusive producers such as Chateau Margaux (Bordeaux) and Angelo Gaja (Piedmont).
Although it is difficult for us to accept, the idea that twist-offs = cheaper wines is a thing of the past.