Cork or a screw cap? For years this has been a hot debate among wine lovers, a question which regularly appears at tastings, fairs or around the dinner table. Both have their merits, but are about to have their powers combined now that the cork has been given a new twist.
The helix cork was unveiled last month at the VinExpo wine fair in Bordeaux. At first glance, it looks just like a champagne cork, closer inspection though, reveals the helix’s signature thread finish.
To understand how this could be a defining moment in winemaking, first we have to look at what the helix could displace. Justin runs through the history of each design here, but let’s have a quick look at the perks.
Cork, the material of choice for centuries, is fairly airtight, but has a porous surface which allows a slow intake of air. Over time, a combination of oxidisation and airborne aromas has an effect on a wine’s flavour, and many say this this needed for wine to age gracefully.
This has meant that corks are still the mainstay for higher end vintage wines, which are made to be stored indefinitely. The problem here is that producers have to perform a fine balancing act, too much air will ruin a wine.
This is known as cork taint, and affects around 7% of stored wines. Imagine you’re a wholesaler paying £50 per bottle, now imagine the dent that 7% leaves in your profits.
For wines made to be drunk within a year then, the screw cap has become king. Forming a more airtight seal, these prevent aging in the bottle. While this creates a class ceiling of quality, it gives the producers a bit more control, the can produce a wine to exact specifications before sealing in the flavour.
These two approaches are a bit of a generalisation; many table wines still feature a cork, while more bespoke wines are moving over to screw caps. The stigma and stereotype isn’t moving anywhere though, many people still look down their noses at a screw cap.
That is where the helix seems to be heading, a collaboration between Portuguese cork manufacturer Amorim and US bottle maker O-I, it will be initially aimed at the £5-10 per bottle market. In this price bracket lies plenty of good quality supermarket wines, whose choice of cap could be causing an unfair dismissal.
On looks alone, the helix cap is already an upgrade. Like a sparkling wine with the cage removed, the cork sits snuggly on top, giving the bottle a far more handsome appearance. Opening the wine seems almost effortless, but the satisfying pop sound is still there.
As for flavour, testing has shown no alteration in colour, taste or bouquet after 26 months. This could mean that those who see cork as an essential means of aging a wine will be slow to adopt. They could just see the helix as a well presented screw cap, the same old product with a few cosmetic tweaks.
It should be a great way of combining looks and practicality, but could face an uncertain crowd. We don’t know exactly why people prefer corks, we just know they do. If we like the natural look and density of a cork, or that satisfying pop sound, the helix will be a hit, but we might just like using a corkscrew, and the sense of occasion it offers.
Author Bio: Joe Errington is a wine lover who writes about food and drink for Juicy Grape Wines.