Which cork for a wine bottle?
Almost 90% of wine bottles purchased in France are blocked by a cork stopper. And for good reason: 77% of French consumers consider cork stoppers as a guarantee of quality!
Although they are steadily declining, these figures are still higher than those observed internationally. In the new world in particular, which has long been giving alternative capping methods a chance. Australia and New Zealand have thus abandoned the cork stopper for the screw cap… for more than 40 years! It is also used overwhelmingly by our neighbours on the other side of the Rhine.
What are the different capping methods and their respective advantages?
The cork stopper, the marketing of tradition
Used to block amphorae in antiquity, cork has the double advantage of being waterproof, but allowing a tiny amount of air to pass through. These exchanges between the wine and its environment after bottling allow the great wines for ageing to gain in complexity and finesse.
On the other hand, the cork stopper has two disadvantages:
- It presents the risk of transmitting what is called cork taste to the wine. We have talked about it here. This risk, which would affect 2% of wine bottles, now seems to be under control. The Atomic Energy Commission has invented a method to wash cork of any trace of TCA, the substance that causes cork taste.
- The second disadvantage is more problematic: world cork production is too low to provide the wine industry with the necessary corks. A problem that is not about to be solved, when we know that it takes more than 40 years for a cork oak tree to produce a bark that can be used to cut corks!
The French taste for cork stoppers is very closely linked to the marketing of tradition. Indeed, if cork remains the most appropriate corking method for wines with a long shelf life, it is absolutely not necessary to preserve wines to be aged for less than 5 years. This explains the confusion in the minds of French consumers: since wines for ageing are quality wines, the cork stopper has become a guarantee of quality.
The cork-satz, a lack of glamour
To address the problem of cork production, new “cork-based” stoppers have been introduced. These are plugged or agglomerated caps. Their advantage? They have an appearance that is similar to cork stoppers, but consume less of the precious material. Less expensive, their quality is nevertheless sufficient for the corking of wines for small ageing.
Going a little further in the lower end of the range, synthetic caps hit the bottom. If they claim to imitate the cork stopper by their shape, hoping that the consumer will only see fire in it, they are in fact made from a petroleum derivative. Glamour side, we’ve seen better! Paradoxically, their organoleptic quality is relatively good. These stoppers ensure a total tightness and therefore an absence of deviation of the wines they seal. However, they are reserved for low-end wines.
There would therefore be a quality logic in the choice of cork: cork for great wines, agglomerated corks for medium quality wines and synthetic corks for others? This would be forgetting that there are in fact other types of corks that offer excellent compromises in terms of organoleptic qualities, aesthetics and price!
The screw cap
The screw cap consists of an aluminium cylinder and a tin or polymer seal. It has several advantages:
- From an organoleptic point of view, it ensures a perfect tightness of the bottle. Studies have shown that this waterproofing is beneficial for lively and fresh wines such as white wines. It allows them to keep this freshness. This waterproofness also guarantees a wine of uniform quality throughout the cuvée. This one no longer evolves once bottled. This characteristic is an advantage for wines that are not dedicated to long ageing.
- Its easy handling is another advantage of the capsule: its opening requires no corkscrew. Once opened, the bottle can be simply closed and reopened. In countries where wine consumption habits are not influenced by century-old traditions that favour cork stoppers, this ease of use is a great success with consumers.
- Note that it also makes it easier to store bottles. They can simply be placed vertically, without fear of the cap drying.
- Finally, its price makes it a strong argument for winegrowers.
These qualities explain the growing success of the screw cap in many vineyards in the southern hemisphere, and in a growing number of European farms.
Its main flaw remains its aestheticism. Relatively basic, the screw cap lacks the glamour that would make it acceptable in the demanding world of wine.
However, a bright future remains to be predicted. Unless new capping techniques compete with it?
The glass stopper, elegance
Since 2004, a newcomer has been getting involved in the battle for the cork. The glass stopper makes room for itself in the sun by taking advantage of the weaknesses of its opponents!
Like the screw cap, its gasket makes it hermetic and therefore preserves the freshness of wines that are kept for a short time. Its handling and storage facilities are no match for its main competitor. What makes it different from the capsule? Its elegance. This luxurious connotation that glass suggests resonates with the values carried by wine.
But this elegance has a price: 3€ per cap on average, compared to 0.10€ per cap. Paradoxically, this price difference facilitates the respective positioning of these two products. The glass stopper has met with some success for mid-range wines, whose value and finesse justify this investment. It leaves the capsule a marketing space for cheaper wines.
That said, the rapid growth in the number of winegrowers who adopt glass could quickly drive down the price of this cork. And therefore make it more and more accessible to entry-level wines.
What about the representative right capsule?
All alcohol bottles sold in France must display a cap called a “congé capsule”. It certifies that the winegrower has paid the taxes on alcohol consumption to the customs authorities.
This capsule is superimposed on the cork and plays no role in the conservation of the wine! It consists of an aluminium or tin skirt and a seal: the fillet. Not being hermetic and therefore does not influence air exchange through the cap. Some, associated with the cork stopper of wines for ageing, can be drilled with 2 holes to facilitate these exchanges.