The Pearl vs The Cork

Let me tell you a little fact. The Pearl is Italian. What? I’ve already mentioned this 50 or 60 times before? Well it’s true, and it means one very important thing. While most other little girl pearls were off playing with dolls and riding their bikes (can a pearl ride a bike? Not the point…) this five-year-old pearl was touring vineyards in Napa and opening her first bottle of wine (to serve to others, not to drink! Seriously guys, what kind of childhood do you think I had? Shame on you) So you can imagine my chagrin when we flash forward several years in time to the introduction of, queue thunder clap and small child screaming in terror, The Screw Top!

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We all laughed at the screw top. It will never last! It’s a passing fad! Yet another ten years rolled by and here we are, with screw top wines smugly looking down at us from wine racks and refrigerator doors, proudly withstanding the test of time.

Now personally I’d like to hold onto this antiquated stubborn grudge against screw tops (did I mention I’m Italian?) but it’s time to bite the bullet and admit, Screw Tops are here to stay. And maybe, just maybe it’s even for the best. Let’s discuss!

Put a Cork in it! The good ole cork has been a staple of our wine since the 1400’s. Cork bark is notoriously malleable and easily fits, and seals, a glass bottle. This provides air tight protection, keeping air out and wine in. It’s a natural renewable resource, it’s historic, it’s breathable, it lasts for long aging wine, and let’s face it, there’s just nothing better than the feeling of pulling that cork out of the bottle. It’s a symbol of a good time that can literally trigger a relaxation response. Breathe a sigh of relief, the wine is open! I have to say, all I’m seeing here is pro, pro, pro. So why would we ever turn our back on our faithful cork companion?

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It’s not Me, it’s You. The truth is, we didn’t. Our cork buddies turned on us. We trusted them for years, decades! And how do they thank us? With Cork Taint! What is cork taint? Buckle in guys, we’re gonna get technical, but I promise it will only last for three or four sentences. Cork Taint is a musty or earthy character in our wine that masks the overall fruit aroma. This infected wine is also referred to as “Corky” or “Corked.” 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA as it’s commonly known, is the chemical compound found in the cork that causes the taint. While it does not cause illness, it can affect the taste of our wine, to the point of making it undrinkable (perish the thought) but there are much greater issues at stake.

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According to one estimate, Cork Taint is causing about 10 billion dollars in damage to the wine industry annually! That’s some serious damage. Another estimate says as many as 1 in 20 bottles will be rendered useless due to the cork (let’s take a moment of silence and pour some out for our fallen comrades because this is getting serious!)

Screw Top to the Rescue. It’s no surprise then that so many wineries are starting to investigate some cork alternatives. Some countries are leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of us. Although the French invented the first prototype of a screw cap for wine, it was purchased by an Australian company. Check any section of Australian wine in your local liquor store and you’ll see they’ve taken the screw cap and ran with it.

With the screw top, and other alternatives, you have no risk of cork taint and you have a way more affordable option. And while corks can vary in levels of oxygen ingress, a screw top produces consistent results. Looks like we’ve got a lot of pros ranking up on the screw top side!

Let’s consider one more plus. Picture this: you’re picnicking with several friends and one of them forgets a corkscrew. With a screw top, it’s no corkscrew, no problem! There’s no longer a reason to oust that person from your social group and ban them from all future parties. There you have it. Screw top: saving friendships since 1964.

 So does this mean the screw cap is the end of all our problems? Not quite.

Forget the Trees, Save the Wine! This is of course a dramatization. But while screw caps and plastic polymer corks are recyclable, they are not biodegradable. Not quite as good at the completely natural option. You also have the lack of tradition to contend with. The wine industry is notoriously stodgy about their traditions after all. I’ve even heard complaints that plastic corks are harder to get back into the bottle to preserve left over wine. Seriously folks, just finish the bottle! Some people…

Like most things in life, there’s no clear answer on which option is better. But it is clear that neither is completely out of the question. The age of screw tops being solely for cheap wine is over. Whether or not we agree, screw tops are here to stay. And quite frankly it’s worth a try. Just like wines on tap, wine in kegs, and upscale box wine is worth a try. The wine industry will continue to grow and change. And in this Pearl’s opinion, that’s a beautiful thing.