The other day a couple of friends and I were at a restaurant. We chose a bottle of local wine and all was business as usual up to this point. It all took a turn and a twist when the waitress started to open the bottle. After removing the entire capsule, she placed the bottle between her legs, started to screw the worm into the cork and then tried with all her might (puffing and becoming red-faced) to pull out the cork. It looked like a wrestling match until the cork finally came out with a huge POP.
Up until the mid-70’s, it didn’t really how gracefully you removed a cork becauseit was the only choice you had. But you would think corkscrews have been around long enough for most people to have mastered its use by now. While nobody seems to know exactly who invented the corkscrew and when, sources tend to agree that they were in common use by the early 17th century (although not for wine!).The design was most likely derived from the gun worme, which was a device used by musket men to remove unspent charges from a musket's barrel.
There are many different corkscrews that can help make the task easier. To list a few: the Sommelier Knife, the Winged Corkscrew, the Butler's friend or Ah-So, the Rabbit, battery driven automatic corkscrews and of course, the desperate or college way of pushing the cork into the bottle with your thumb.
This deep rooted traditional way of opening a corked bottle is very romantic and still the preferred way by many people. However, the arrival and now widespread use of screw caps is a great blessing. They make it easier to open bottles very rapidly. They don’t spoil a wine with the dreaded once-in-a-while cork taint, and most importantly, their growing popularity has created tremendous pressure on the cork industry to be more selective and produce and provide better, more sanitary corks. As a result, both the winery and the consumer win.
So the million dollar question is: Which is better, a cork or screw cap? Unfortunately, that’s like asking is classical music better than rock and roll? Like many things it comes down to personal preference and an educated choice. So here are arguments for both …
The cork, when harvested and manufactured correctly, has a great track record. Due to its natural nature, there is - unfortunately - a small percentage that can be bad. But other than that, a cork is an amazing closure. Great elasticity provides a great seal, yet it allows a very slow exchange of oxygen. This can help a wine to slowly mature and soften. It also means that as a winemaker, I don’t need to force extra Oxygen into the wine during the making of the wine.
However a screw cap is very uniform and won’t allow this oxygen ingress, thus protecting the wine from getting spoiled longer, and guaranteeing that every bottle of a wine tastes the same. This topic has been the source of many heated debates by winemakers and consumers. But don’t be fooled, in big companies the CFO also weighs in and one of the biggest reasons for the rise of the screw cap is of course that it is cheaper!
In the end, the two can live happily side-by-side. While corks will work better for one wine or winemaker, the screw cap might work better for another. So whether you prefer to screw it up or twist it off, just make sure to do so happily and often!
BONUS: Life Is a Bed of Rosés