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Screw Caps Vs Cork In California Wine Bottles: Which Works Best?

When a porous cork enclosure is the only thing blocking oxygen from your California wine there’s plenty of room for failure. As one winemaker said to us several years back, “Corks were great technology 300 years ago.”

But 300-years-ago were the days of horse drawn carriages and terra cotta Amphora storage vessels. Today we have screw caps hermetically sealing all that vivacious wine from oxygen.

Too many people think great California wine is closed with cork and cheap California wine is screw capped. Not necessarily. Many beautiful wines are capped with them, and award winners too.

Our previoius story about California wine bottles capped with corks vs. screw caps is our most popular essay. That makes sense. All that luscious fermented juice changes with exposure to oxygen. How do you manage this?

‘Corks were
great technology
300 years ago.’

So, why don’t screw caps dominate the wine bottle world?

According to a pair of winery proprietors screw caps actually dominate the world. Just not here in America. Nor in France. And it’s unlikely to change anytime soon because of consumer perceptions about quality. Consumers view wine sealed with cork enclosure at a premium.

A Cass Winery screw cap.

When will that change?

According to Paso RoblesSteve Cass, “Well, in California, slowly. France no. South Africa yes. New Zealand yes. Australia yes. We are way behind those three countries. With France it’s a cultural thing. So we’re kind of hung over on the cultural thing here in America, just like France.”

So the concept of experimental New World wine only goes only so far with consumers. If France corks, must we use corks? And to think, we thought following Europe’s lead went overboard at the Boston Tea Party.

Why we use corks on high-end reds is purely customer perception. I don’t think the U.S. is ready for screw caps.” -Damian Grindley

Damian Grindley of Brecon Estate on the west side of Paso says, “If you go to Australia and most of Europe now, everything is screw cap. Even high-end wines, you know $100 bottles. Why we use corks on high-end reds is purely customer perception.” He adds, “I don’t think the U.S. is ready for screw caps.”

Cass Winery screw caps all their wine (except their cork sealed $175 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon blend – there’s that consumer perception thing.)

Steve Cass spins a different twist on his screw cap decision.

“I’ve never had anybody decline to buy our
wine because we don’t have a cork in it.” -Steve Cass

“If there had been an engineered tin enclosure that had been in the wine business for hundreds and hundreds of years and it was proven to never have cork taint, it delivered consistent results, it aged wine better, and someone said ‘no, let’s go with a natural product that is inconsistent in how much oxygen it lets into the bottle, which tends to take away the fruit character as wine starts to age’……..why would you change to corks? That would be pretty hard to explain.”

He adds, “I’ve never had anybody decline to buy our wine because we don’t have a cork in it.”

In the world of white California wine, vintners are expanding the use of screw caps. The trend is welcome.

At Brecon Estate screw caps enclose all whites and the more elegant reds like Grenache. Grindley says, “Because we want to retain that freshness, that crispness. Albarino is a lovely aromatic and crisp varietal and we don’t want any oxygen getting into the wine. We use caps for all our whites and our more elegant reds.” But all their reds created with aging in mind are sealed with corks.

Both Cass & Brecon prove screw caps can deliver quality, taste and awards.

Brecon’s screw top 2023 Albarino earned Best in Show at Sunset Magazine’s International Wine Competition this year. Their 2020 True Acacia Head took best of show for white wine in the International Women’s Wine Awards just recently. They also have multiple double gold awards for their wines (some with cork.)

Cass has multi double gold award wines over the years and awarded the Central Coasts’ Winery of the Year in 2015, 2018 and 2020.

Don’t turn away from screw caps. You’ll know the wine inside is in good shape because the hermitical seal prevents cold contraction from sucking oxygen into the wine and heat expansion from pushing it out. In theory, the wine is as artful as the winemaker created.

We also enjoy screw caps because it helps us with our wine cellar. When you manage a collection of 170+ bottles of wine, storage becomes an issue. We need to keep all those bottles in temperate space with little to no temperature variation. Screw caps are more forgiving on the temperature variation. That’s a big win.

Back to Brecon’s Damian Grindley, he says, “This was a hot topic 20 years ago when I was in wine making school, among winemakers, and probably 10 years ago with the public.”

We suspect the cork vs. screw cap discussion will not end any time soon. In the mean time, don’t eschew screw caps. There are some beautiful wines awaiting you with non-traditional enclosures.

Some notes on our wine ranking system.

Bill & Erin Hodge write about California Wine, the estates & winemakers producing them and educational information about Vino. Living in California Wine Country provides a front row seat to the places you want to visit the most here in the Golden State.

– -✰  means -What’s next on your list of wines
-✰  means -Not liking it too much
✰ means  -We’ll drink this wine, especially if it’s hosted!
✰+ means -You’ve got our attention and we might buy this wine.
✰+ + means -We’re hooked and we’re going to buy this wine.
When you see -✰/✰+  with a slash, it means we disagree.

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