Cork or Screw: The Best Way to Store Wine

Updated on December 24, 2019
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JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

What Is Cork?

Cork is harvested from Quercus suber, the Cork Oak tree, found only in southwest Europe and northwest Africa. The material is composed of suberin, a hydrophobic (water-repelling) substance that gives it its buoyant and elastic characteristics. It is also fire retardant, impermeable and 100% natural, making it as versatile as it is sustainable and one of the easiest products to recycle.

Almost 50% of the cork harvested annually is produced in Portugal, with the rest coming from Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy and France. Cork oak trees live for about 200 years and are harvested from the age of 25 in 9-year cycles by stripping the bark from their trunks. The older the tree, the better quality cork it yields.

Screw Caps for Wine? Why Not?

When it comes to wine, and particularly wine storage, it seems there are two opposing camps: those who think screw caps are perfectly adequate, and those who think the only way to store wine correctly is with a traditional cork. Is it just a question of snobbery, or is there another reason why connoisseurs go completely crazy for corks?

Whatever method you prefer, there are only three ways to seal a bottle of wine:

  1. Traditional cork – Made from the bark of cork oak trees found in southwest Europe and northwest Africa.
  2. Synthetic cork – Made from synthetic materials such as plastic in the shape of traditional corks.
  3. Screw caps – Made from metal with the addition of softer material to form an airtight seal against the mouth of the bottle.

A traditional cork jutting teasingly out of a wine bottle's neck.
A traditional cork jutting teasingly out of a wine bottle's neck. | Source

To Cork or Not to Cork

Cork has its pros and cons. Most critics believe that cork is essential to allow the more expensive wines to age properly, letting in just the right amount of oxygen. On the other hand, traditional corks have in the past become tainted from the compound trichloroanisole (TCA), ruining the contents in the process.

The sound of a cork popping is immensely satisfying, adding a sense of sophistication, luxury and unbounded pleasure to any celebration, but that pleasure can be short-lived if the wine itself has gone off. Synthetic corks eliminate some of these issues but have proven ineffective at keeping oxidation at bay, which naturally limits a wine’s shelf life.

Screw caps are being used more and more frequently in the 21st century for a number of good reasons:

  • They’re cheaper to manufacture and fit than traditional cork.
  • They’re the perfect solution for storing young or less expensive wine.
  • They’re easy and convenient for keeping bottled wine sealed during meals or over a short period of time, without the hassle of trying to squeeze a cork back inside.
  • They’re able to form a tighter seal than cork which ensures a better flavor for all but the most expensive varieties of wine.

The Making of Cork

Is Your Wine Corked?

Corked wine gives off a musty smell and has a moldy taste of old shoes. That’s not what you want when you read about the fruity notes and rich, deep aromas on the back of the bottle. Instead of fragrant plum with a delicious hint of blackberries and cinnamon, you end up with a cross between stale bread and week-old socks in desperate need of a wash.

Of course, one of the problems is that the average person can only tell if a particular wine is corked when it’s too late – by opening the bottle and taking a sip. Thanks to their ability to form an airtight seal, screw caps do away with this potential problem entirely.

Cork Oak Tree Quercus Suber

The cork oak tree Quercus suber, in a picture taken near Arraiolos, Portugal
The cork oak tree Quercus suber, in a picture taken near Arraiolos, Portugal | Source

Cork Grows on Trees

Most of the world’s cork is harvested in Portugal. Visitors to Funchal, the capital of Madeira, will struggle to buy a bottle of wine without a cork in it. The reason for this is simple: bottling firms are doing their bit to support local cork makers and contribute to the country’s economic stability. A stroll along the promenade towards the marina in Funchal serves to highlight the importance of the cork industry to this Portuguese archipelago, where concrete cork-shaped breakwaters can be seen piled high in strategic positions.

The Portuguese deserve credit for keeping the tradition alive, but their cork-only attitude can make things tricky when you’re on holiday. After all, who thinks to pack a corkscrew in among their t-shirts and swimming trunks? You could probably borrow a corkscrew from the hotel you’re staying in, or if there’s a wine shop across the road you could buy a bottle and have it uncorked before leaving.

A Tribute to Cork

Cork production plays a huge role in Madeira's economy, and reminders of its importance are everywhere, including in this breakwater on the Funchal promenade
Cork production plays a huge role in Madeira's economy, and reminders of its importance are everywhere, including in this breakwater on the Funchal promenade | Source
Conductors owe the non-slip grips on their batons to the inventiveness of cork manufacturers
Conductors owe the non-slip grips on their batons to the inventiveness of cork manufacturers | Source

Put a Cork in it

Cork stoppers, particularly for wine bottles, account for about 60% of all cork production. Unlike the alternatives, cork is a natural substance which poses no threat to the environment. While screw caps can be recycled, synthetic corks cannot. Cork can also be used to create a wide variety of consumer goods including:

  • Fastenings for woodwind instruments
  • Conductor’s batons
  • Shoes
  • Watch straps and bracelets
  • Badminton shuttlecocks
  • Belts and handbags
  • The cores of baseballs and cricket balls
  • Automotive interiors
  • Heat shields
  • Bulletin boards
  • Coasters
  • Soundproofing panels
  • Paper pickup mechanisms in computer printers
  • Bricks for outer walls of houses
  • Floor and wall tiles

It seems cork has an almost endless number of uses, including some you might never consider. For instance, in 2008 the Portuguese national postal service issued the world's first postage stamp... made from cork.

Unlike the alternatives, cork is a natural substance which poses no threat to the environment.

A traditional cork wine stopper
A traditional cork wine stopper | Source

The Future of the Cork

Cork is a buoyant material that makes it ideal for fishing floats, buoys and handles for fishing rods. It is a valuable and versatile product that can be turned into different shapes and sizes to suit a wide range of purposes; but are its wine-sealing days numbered? Apparently not…

It was just a matter of time before someone would come up with the idea of combining the two: the convenience of a screw cap and the excitement and luxury of a cork. Bottling firm O-I and cork producer Amorim have joined forces to create a handscrew cork, known as the Helix.

The Helix 'cork with a twist' serves the same function as a screw cap, able to be screwed back firmly into a partly-empty bottle by hand. This will give cork lovers the satisfaction they seek, while at the same time making it easy for anyone to open and reseal a bottle without the need for additional paraphernalia.

Quick Cork Knowledge Quiz

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    • whereyouwatch profile image

      Bruce Donners 

      2 years ago from France

      I love this - In the defense of the cork! I am a cork guy, just for that sweet popping sound alone!

    • JohnMello profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from England

      Thank you all for your comments. Regarding your question, howlermunkey, the answer is no. I always assumed you'd have to open the wine, smell it and taste it to know for sure. Here's an article about it:

      Hope that helps :)

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congrats on HOTD!

      This was very interesting. My elder daughter considers herself something of a wine connoisseur, and turns her nose up at screw caps. LOL I tease her and call her a wine snob. ;-)

      I don't much care, either way; I buy and drink what I like, but that said, I tend to have wine go off for being too old once opened, as I'm not a very heavy drinker.

      However, I do tend to have difficulties extracting the corks from those types of bottles...

    • howlermunkey profile image

      Jeff Boettner 

      4 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Excellent article and congrats on HOD! Question about a bottle of wine being "corked". You had mentioned that the average person can only tell if a bottle of wine has been corked after they open it (this has happened to me a couple of times). Do you know of ways that we can tell if a bottle has been corked before we open it (Preferably before we buy it and take it home)?

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      4 years ago from USA

      This is very informative. I never knew so much about corks. While I enjoy good wine, I'm not a snob about it. Whether cork or screw top, I'll still drink it. By the way, congratulations on receiving the Hub of the Day award. This is a very fine hub. You deserve the recognition.

    • gerimcclym profile image

      Geri McClymont 

      4 years ago

      A very interesting article on cork and the various ways to store wine. I also enjoyed watching the process of making cork (the video). Congrats on HOTD!

    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 

      4 years ago from Miami Florida

      I like your informative hub. The cork's tree is amazing; it does a secure wine on the bottle. Thank you for showing the pictures of the tree. The entire process of the wine industry is precise. Sometimes, I wonder how many years the makers took . Until, they made the finished product. I liked how you explained your hub mister Johnmello. I like all the pictures in your hub.

    • JohnMello profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from England

      Thanks, Kristen :)

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      John, congrats on HOTD! This was a real interesting hub on wine storage and the different kinds of corks used to bottle it up. Well done!

    • JohnMello profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from England

      Thanks pal :)

    • profile image

      Davy McIntyre 

      4 years ago

      Great article, very interesting and informative.

    • JohnMello profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from England

      Thanks Stacie L. I've also noticed that good wine (i.e. red) doesn't seem to last very long :)

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 

      5 years ago

      I am happy that my favorite wines are now coming with a screw may seem like a low life thing to buy but it save me some aggravation.

      Most of the wines today are coming with synthetic corks I noticed; they are much harder to re-cork into the bottle.

      I haven't notice much of a difference in taste as they are used up in one sitting! LOL


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