Home > Art, Australia, Experiences, Grenache, Shiraz > Screw Top Versus Cork – The Jury Is Still Out

Screw Top Versus Cork – The Jury Is Still Out

d'Arenberg The Footbolt ShirazDSC_0317Inadvertently, I run an experiment of cork versus screw top, and the results were interesting enough to discuss them here.

About a week ago, I pulled out of the cellar (which is actually a wine fridge) the bottle of 2004 d’Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz MacLaren Vale from Australia (14.5% ABV). As I confessed in my blogging addiction in the recent post, before the bottle is open, in addition to just regular anticipation of wine experience itself, now I have added anticipation of the possible blog post which can be written based on the wine experience.

Or not. There are many possible was for the experience not becoming a blog post. Too many things to write about, too little time. Or you just hit the “writer’s block”. Or the experience is not worthy of being captured. Which was the case with this Shiraz.

d’Arenberg is a well known Australian winery, which just celebrated 100 years last year, producing substantial range of typical Australian wines, such as Shiraz, Grenache, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and more. I had pleasure of meeting Chester Osborn, d’Arenberg’s winemaker in third generation, and even have couple of bottles with his signature in my cellar (by the way, what do you do with those signed bottles? I should make a separate post to discuss this interesting question).

Now, I didn’t know what to expect from this bottle of Shiraz. The Footbolt is one of the introductory level Shiraz wines from d’Arenberg, but that doesn’t mean anything. Cork is out (regular cork, just keep reading to see why it is important), and judging by the color alone, this wine didn’t reach its prime yet – dark ruby in color. But the nose and then the palate were inconclusive. Acidity would jump up and down with every sip, and while the wine had enough fruit, it was simply not getting together, definitely lacking the balance which is all so important for me in the wine. So, based on this wine alone, the blog post was not born.

And then yesterday I pulled out another bottle of d’Arenberg wine from the same vintage:

d'Arenberg Shiraz Grenache

d’Arenberg Shiraz Grenache

2004 d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache McLaren Vale (14.5% ABV) – a blend of 50% Shiraz and 50% Grenache . With the screw top. That was an “aha” moment. Same vintage as the previous wine – but wit the screw top – how different the experience will it be?

No “pop” of the pulled cork. Just a quiet “tsk-tsk-tsk” of unscrewing the top. In the glass, this wine looked like it was made yesterday – dark ruby, very concentrated color. From the get go, the wine showed beautiful fruit on the nose, ripe plums, equally supported on the palate with fresh fruit and energetic acidity.

About 45 minutes or so later, when I poured another glass, the wine tasted almost sweet – the thought was “what happened”? This was a totally a different wine compare to the way the wine started. Another half an hour or so – and we were presented with the new wine again – dark concentrated fruit, firm structure, tannins and acidity all summing up into a gorgeous balanced wine.

Wine ageing in the bottle is typically associated with the tiny inflow of oxygen through the cork. In case of screwtop, the oxygen doesn’t get to the wine at all. Thus my theory is that once you open a bottle under the screwtop, the very quick ageing process starts off, which takes the wine through the different “taste stages” in the rapid succession. Then at the same time, the wine is changing its taste in the glass no matter what, so may be that rapid taste changing has nothing to do with the way the bottle was closed.

Ideally, of course, I would love to compare two identical bottles (same wine, same vintage), only one closed with the screwtop and another one with the regular cork (I believe I actually read about some producers who are doing that). In this experiment, the Shiraz Grenache under the screwtop was a clear winner, but it is hard to tell what it has to do with the screwtop versus regular cork versus the two wines being just differently made.

I guess I can end this report with the words “to be continued…” – and I would love to hear your thoughts. Cheers!


  1. June 10, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Interesting conclusion. I am curious to hear about other people’s experiences with the same situation. I have never even thought of comparing, I think because I didn’t even realize that producers were bottling both ways and that it would even be an option to compare.

    • talkavino
      June 10, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      Yep, I’m curious too : ) it is pretty rare, but you can find the same wines enclosed with cork and screw top.

  2. June 10, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Love the screw, myself. The bottle of 2002 Argyle Spirithouse I had last week convinced me that we need not fear the screw-top!

    • talkavino
      June 10, 2013 at 7:03 pm

      I don’t fear the screw tops, but I’m still not sure about their effect on wine ageing.

  3. June 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    As a person who was used to the screwtop, I have nothing against it, and even miss the convenient part of being able to open a bottle on unexpected situations or outdoors. But after switching the continent and realising the pleasure of the pop sound and sniffing the cork, I will choose cork over screwtop if I had the choice. And I believe that corked wines taste better and less aggressive but of course it depends how the wine was made. Australians normally dont lay down wines for long so good quality corks will be wasted. If the cork is low quality, there is a risk of spoiling the wine. So screwtop is safe and economical, and Aussies like to drink outdoors! I remember how the Spanish friend of mine opened a cork bottle by pushing it down with a finger. 🙂

    • talkavino
      June 10, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      I would think that screw top will be more expensive than the cork… There are many wineries all over the world (including France) using screw tops, I’m still wondering how we can estimate the effect of screw top on ageing of the wine…

      • June 11, 2013 at 2:19 am

        I haven’t done any experiments on the effect but my long time observation and common sense tell me that wine, as a living organism, needs oxygen to improve, like cheese. I notice that when I wrap cheese in plastic film, it spoils fast and it lasts forever when stored unwrapped; it only turns dry and hard, but the taste is concentrated and better.

        I don’t see the point in producing screwtops and synthetic stoppers, which aren’t biodegradable. I don’t agree with taking an easier option instead of paying more care to ensuring the quality of corks. Not all wines have to come in corks but they should let the producers and consumers choose what they want instead of switching all to screwtops 😦

        My oenologist friend tipped me that Robert Parker gives low points to wines with traditional corks – bad bad bad! When I was in France, I saw some St-Emillion first growths wines suddenly changing to agglomerate corks and I was outraged.

        Anyway, I love collecting corks and sniffing them randomly, tracing past memories of each wine. Sorry for the morning rambling. ^^

        • talkavino
          June 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm

          I honestly don’t know if Parker had an influence on the types of enclosures for wine – the problem is that when $50 bottle of wine is actually corked despite all the care which went into its production, it is a pretty sad moment for both the producer and consumer. I’m not taking sides, I’m just stating the obvious… And don’t get me wrong – I love the cork!

  4. June 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Very interesting “experiment”, Anatoli!
    I have to say that, while I have gotten used (or resigned myself?) to the use of screwcaps for white wines (as in, Australian and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs), I still have a hard time “psychologically” accepting them for “serious” reds (I guess they may be fine for a Lambrusco or similar).
    There was an interesting post on Dr Vino’s blog a while back reporting on the experiments that the guys at Chateau Margaux are conducting to identify adequate substitutes for cork for their wines and how the jury was still out as to the effects that screwcaps may have on a 50-year old Chateau Margaux, which is why they are looking at them with interest but for the moment are sticking to corks.

    • talkavino
      June 11, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      I love the cork, no questions. I hope any wine worth ageing for 50 years will be closed with an actual cork – but in the end of the day, these are all business decisions…

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