There’s something spectacularly ritualistic about a wine cork being ceremoniously pulled while the rush of aromas permeates the air. Nevermore so than in South Africa, with wines from the Cape and the Cape Winelands renowned the world over. However, many people believe wine should be sealed with a cork only. A wine purist will probably insist that proper cork derived from tree bark is the best closure for wine that needs to age. That’s because it allows the wine to breathe, soften and mature properly.
Is one natural cork the same as another?
All winemakers agree that aeration plays a crucial factor in the quality of the wine. Natural cork certainly allows for a slow flow of oxygen into the bottle, which does, without a doubt, help the aging process. But there’s no guarantee that one natural cork will be any more or less porous than another. In other words there can be distinctive taste differences between two bottles from the same vintage.
Primary motivation for cork to screw top
Moreover, there’s the issue of cork taint. While natural cork closures have a long heritage they do sometimes cause a bottle of wine to be “corked”. This does not mean there are small particles of cork floating in the wine bottle or glass. Rather, it’s marked by a mouldy cardboard odour and a flat flavour caused by various chemical compounds that may reside in the cork. The most common of these is TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole).
Until fairly recently, in spite of prevention efforts to treat natural cork it was estimated that approximately one bottle in twelve was “corked”. This prompted wine producers to source newer and more effective closure methods such as screw top, glass, plastic corks, and reconstituted (treated) natural cork. Nowadays the leading suppliers guarantee a cork taint of no more than one percent.
Does screw top equal inferior wine quality?
In the last decade screw tops have become progressively more popular particularly with wines that don’t require aging. For years screw tops were associated with cheaper, inferior wines but that’s all changing. Nowadays, many winemakers, high-end producers included, claim there’s no definitive difference between the two when it comes to white wine. That’s not to say that there aren’t any problems with screw tops particularly if they’re not properly handled or stored. If the metal screw top is bumped and damaged, this may allow the ingress of air, which will result in oxidation.
The real secret to good quality wine
There are a lot of assumptions when it comes to the controversial cork versus screw top debate. Some sommeliers insist that the cork is part of the wine so anything else is unacceptable. Others argue that people who buy only wine with a cork rob themselves of some potentially wonderful taste experiences. Perhaps what’s really important is what happens in the vineyard. After all, a really good wine starts with the grapes and the quality of the harvest.
Our GOLD Restaurant wine list includes a combination of both cork and screw top South African vintages. These include numerous varietals from Stellenbosch, Robertson, Elim and from the Rickety Bridge Winery in Franschhoek in particular.