Wine Storage: Pros and Cons of Alternative Bottle Closures

Wine Storage: Pros and Cons of Alternative Bottle Closures

In our first post on wine storage, we touched on the importance of proper storage conditions. Humidity is especially important to ensure that wine corks stay moist and  maintain the airtight seal and prevent oxygen from damaging the wine.

Wine drinkers are typically most familiar with traditional, natural corks; however, modern wine making has introduced alternative wine closure systems, including synthetic corks and even twist-off caps without using a cork.

So, how can different types of bottle closures affect the storage of your wine? Here is a rundown of common wine bottle seals, and what to keep in mind when storing your wine collection:

Natural Corks

Natural corks are the most common way to seal wine bottles, accounting for 60 percent of wine bottle closures every year. Derived from the Quercus suber, or Cork Oak tree, the material is impenetrable, and expands once inside the wine bottle, regardless of the shape of the neck of the bottle, to create an airtight seal. The cork also expands and contracts with changes in any environmental fluctuations.

In addition, many wine aficionados correlate natural corks with sophistication and high-end wines.

A common flaw of traditional wine corks is the cracking that occurs naturally in the bark. This can result in oxidation due to excessive oxygen exposure. Natural corks can also become brittle when too dry, resulting in the cork breaking while opening, or causing pieces of cork to break off and float in the wine.

Another top concern is cork taint, caused by the presence of trichloroanisole (TCA). TCA is most commonly produced from naturally occurring fungi in the cork. Cork taint can cause wine to have a moldy smell and “corky” taste. According to Vintage Cellars, cork taint affects 3 to 15 percent of wine bottles, and can occur regardless of the type or price point of the wine.

Synthetic Corks

To protect against cork taint and achieve greater quality control, many wine makers have started using synthetic (or plastic) corks in lieu of natural corks. Synthetic corks function just like a natural cork, but are resistant to the fungal contamination found frequently in natural corks.

Synthetic corks also have their downfalls. Unlike natural corks, synthetic corks do not adapt to their environment, which can result in an imperfect fit for the bottle. A cork that is too loose can let in too much air and damage the wine; a cork that is too tight can block out the small amount of air needed to help wine age and evolve as intended. Further, when a synthetic cork is too tight, it can be difficult to remove from the bottle after about 18 months.

Screw Caps

Twist-off caps are becoming increasingly popular among wine makers looking for alternatives to natural corks for both mainstream and high-end wines. Like synthetic corks, screw caps maintain a tight seal and do not deteriorate, thus preventing oxidation caused by too much air entering the wine bottle. This can aid in the long-term aging of wine. Screw caps are also immune to cork taint.

Wine enthusiasts argue that the airtight seal established with screw tops can hinder wine over time, trapping in unpleasant flavors and blocking out the limited amount of air needed for flavors to develop. But, perhaps the greatest concern with the use of screw caps is the perception that twist-off tops are only for “cheap” wine.

Smart Wine Storage

Whether a wine is sealed with a natural cork, synthetic cork or screw cap, it is still important to maintain consistent conditions to promote the best possible development of flavors. By being cognizant of the pros and cons associated with each type of closure, you can make an educated decision on how long to store wine before enjoying. When in doubt, talk to the wine maker to determine the appropriate storage time for your special bottle of wine.  

Have you noticed a difference between the wine bottle closures discussed above? Share your tips and experiences with our community.

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 Photo Credit: Elisha Terada via Unsplash

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