Wine corks and other bottle stoppers
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
In former times, the wine was transported and stored in barrels or in tubes made of animal skins. This then allowed the wine to take on off-flavors from the vessels.
Then in the 17th century the glass bottle was invented and towards the end of the 17th century also the suitable closure: The cork.
Thus, cork is the oldest closure for wine bottles, and we love the "pop" sound, when opening a bottle.
But is it still a contemporary product ?
Its main problem is the so-called "cork taint". This is due to a chemical substance TCA (trichloroanisole), which can arise during the production of corks.
I once read that a teaspoon would be enough to make the whole of Lake Constance taste like cork. Fortunately, no one has yet come up with the idea to try this, but it shows that even a tiny amount of it is enough to create unwanted off-flavors. These do not always have to be as obvious as with cork taint, but the wine can simply lack freshness. It then often tastes one-dimensional without there seeming to be any reason for this.
A good, long cork closes a bottle optimally and allows the wine to age slowly because it can breathe.
But since 90% of all wines are drunk within about 3 years after bottling, the cork can not live out its quality here to the advantage. A good cork costs about 90 cents, so the bottle of wine should be at a higher price, so that the proportionality is right here.
So, the winemakers started looking for alternatives -
I would like to present two of them here:
The glass closure:
In this process, a glass cork is pressed onto the matching bottle by means of a sealing ring. For this purpose, the bottle and the closure must be precisely matched to each other, which makes production expensive.
The advantage is that these closures are produced sustainably and can also be recycled again via the glass container. Additionally, this product is completely odorless and tasteless.
The system was invented in Germany. Karl Matheis, a doctor from Alzey was inspired by his pharmacist bottles. Together with the company Alcoa the sealing ring was invented and for the transport an aluminum cap is placed around the closure. This ensures safe transport and high breakage resistance.
Overall, the process is quite expensive, which is why it is found less and less often in wine bottles, but more and more often in high-quality spirits.
I have saved all the glass caps so far and regularly use them to close wine bottles with broken or otherwise faulty corks.
Overall a stylish wine bottle stopper in my opinion.
The screw cap:
We know this system from water- or similar bottles and correspondingly bad was at first the image of the wines which were closed with it.
There is a simple short version (short cap) and one with a longer capsule (long cap). The latter is also mostly used today. In the cap of the closures is a leaf of PVC, while the capsule itself is made of aluminum. By screwing the cap onto the bottle, the leaf closes and the seal is stable. These closures are also called Stelvin.
The screw cap has the advantage that bottles can be stored horizontally after opening, which can sometimes be useful in the refrigerator.
Another advantage is that you can enjoy a bottle of wine at any time without a corkscrew. How many times have we stood in front of a bottle with a cork and tried to get it out (I could also write about that sometimes😊).
On the other hand, these bottles do not have to be stored horizontally, as there is no need to keep the cork moist.
New Zealand was one of the first countries to use this type of closure and sealed their premium wines with it early on. Only for the German market, bottles were still corked, as we did not accept closures other than cork for a long time.
The winegrowers' requirement for stable wine is that the wine should be able to breathe. Today, this is achieved by placing a zinc leaf in the lid, which is not 100% tight (do not worry, nothing leaks) and thus allows the wine to breathe as if it were a good cork.
At the same time, this prevents the wines from becoming too reductive.
Also, you must proceed a little differently during bottling than with a cork closure. By now, all vintners have learned this and bottle the wines in top condition.
For me, the advantages of the screw cap for everyday wines are so obvious that when in doubt, I now choose the screw cap over the cork.
What do you think ?