#Wine Closures: It’s An Open & Shut Case

Did you know 30% of all wines on the market are sealed with a closure other than cork? There are many practical reasons to select a wine closure other than cork. Economics is a big reason. Corks are expensive to produce and they are blamed for many a failed or TCA tainted bottle of wine. I personally had two “corked” bottles of 2010 Brunello out of one case. That was an expensive failure. However, corks are traditional, even romantic. Ever ordered a wine from a sommelier at a restaurant and he/she “un-screwed” it for you? Wine closures are a hot topic. I certainly have my opinions. What are your thoughts on wine closures?

There are a multitude of wine closure options. There are corks, synthetic corks, screw-caps, glass corks known as vino-seals, and crown caps found on some sparkling wines. For this article we will explore the first three.

variety of wine closures

Natural corks are ancient. They were used by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as closures for their wine jugs. Natural corks are harvested from cork trees with 50% of global cork production coming from Portugal; followed by Spain at 30.5%, and rounded off by France, Italy, and North Africa. Once a cork tree is planted it takes 15 years before the first cork can be harvested, but really 32 years before the cork produced by the tree is of the highest quality! The natural cork industry is not a cash cow; therefore, every piece of cork must be used. The highest quality goes into the most expensive corks, lesser quality into lesser expensive corks. Of course corks infected with TCA are immediately disposed.  Corks are completely natural and fully biodegradable. They are compressed into a wine bottle by a machine, they easily expand to create a tight seal inside the wine. They require a corkscrew to open. They are Coravin friendly.

corks - wine closures

Synthetic corks are typically petroleum based and crafted by one of the world largest synthetic cork makers, Nomacorc. Inside the bottle they look like corks, allow for a small amount of wine breathing, yet they protect the wine against TCA. Some can be slightly harder to remove, though not much. They do not break and though they are not biodegradable they are recyclable. They do not work with a Coravin system.

synthetic corks wine closures

The screw cap is pretty much what it sounds. They are widely used in New Zealand and Australia but are used all over the world in lesser quantities. It prevents more air getting into the wine than a natural and synthetic corks. Some consumers see screw caps as an inexpensive closure that does not encourage wine aging so screw caps do suffer from a mis-perception problem. Stelvin is the global leader in screw cap manufacturing. The screw cap does allow for consistency from bottle to bottle and the absence of taint and reduction in spoilage.

screw caps wine closures

The UC Davis Wine Executive Program provides more insight into these three different closure options:

Natural Corks:

  • Traditionalists claim that “real” corks allow healthy gas exchange for flavorful wine.
  • Some claim that good sources of natural cork are dwindling.
  • Not all natural corks are alike, resulting in variable cork properties.
  • Higher chance of “corked” wines and trichloroanisole (TCA) taint.

Synthetic Corks:

  • Synthetics close 60% of the top 500 wines (sold by volume) in the US.
  • There is an untrue perception that synthetic corks let too much air into the wine bottle. They actually help regulate and manage oxygen.
  • Injection molded closures were so hard to take out of the bottle that most of those companies are out of business. Co-extruded synthetics can easily be extracted or reinserted into a wine bottle.

Screw Caps:

  • Less chance that wines will be “corked,” and probably fewer tainted wines.
  • Some say that air-tight screw caps are “suffocating” to wines.
  • Still considered by some to be the hallmark of a cheaper product.

Ken Wright Cellars 2012 Abbott Claim Vineyard Pinot Noir was awarded Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s #1 wine in their Top 100 Wines of 2014! That Pinot Noir used a Nomacorc closure.

Ken Wright Cellars 2012 Abbott Claim Vineyards wine closure

Wes Hagen shared his thoughts on moving from 100% natural corks to DIAM corks back in August 2014 when he was still with Clos Pepe. Wes states “I am going to go ahead and guess 20-40% of wines on the market under cork are changed by the chemical interaction of that cork and the wine.”

Loring Wine Company crafts a delicious range of high quality Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and other varietals using screw caps exclusively on their still wines. I can tell you from personal experience their Pinot Noirs age very well.

loring wine company wine closure stelvin

And then there is the Amorim NDTech, the world’s first natural cork with proven “non-detectable TCA guarantee.” Amorim is screening individual corks on the production line using sophisticated gas chromatography, taking seconds to examine each cork, eliminating the risk of cork contamination Amorim poured a considerable amount of time and money into the research that lead to the production of the NDTech natural cork. Furthermore, Amorim explained, “Two of the world’s leading wine industry research facilities — Hochschule Geisenheim University and The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) — have been engaged to independently validate the performance of NDtech.”

corks only wine closures

So what does all this mean? I have mixed feelings about closures. I really like the natural cork because it does allow a nice age ability of the wines and as a huge Coravin fan it is the only cork I can use with my Coravin system. I love that natural corks are 100% biodegradable and that no trees are cut down to make them. However, I do not like spending a lot of money on a wine and it being tainted by the cork at all! I am optimistic about Amorim’s NDTech natural corks. My concern is the cost of these corks and how many wineries will be able to afford to use them. Regarding synthetic corks I am really not a fan of the Nomacorc. I do care for their appearance or texture. And often times once I get them out of a bottle I cannot push them back in like I can a natural cork. Therefore, in the synthetic cork category I do prefer the Diam to the Nomacorc. I have many bottles of Clos Pepe wines. The Diam cork look and feel like a 100% real cork because it is made out of real cork. The Diam are easy to remove and to push back into the bottle. I believe the Diam works with the Coravin System but the Nomacorc does not. I personally have no issue with screw caps and would prefer them to the Nomacorc any day of the week. In my opinion the screw cap looks less cheap than a synthetic cork made out of petroleum.

Each closures has its own pros and cons. If corks were perfect then Nomacorc, Diam corks and Stelvin closures would have never been invented. Really it’s all just a matter of personal preference. Additionally, I have never made (or not made) a wine purchase based on the closure. So I ask you once again, what are your thoughts on wine closures?

3 responses to “#Wine Closures: It’s An Open & Shut Case”

  1. Excellent article Michelle! As you mention with the quality of natural cork nowadays you only have to care about storing wine above 50% of relative humidity to avoid any TCA problems. We have designed our technology to monitor and maintain this comfort zone because we know many collectors use Coravin and have an important part of their collection using this enclosure. Visit us on http://www.cellierdomesticus.ca Cheers!

  2. I enjoyed learning about wine closures, and have never really cared I guess either way. But I am still learning a lot about wine so how they are closed are not as important to me at this point. 🙂

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