When did they stop using corks in bottles?

Answered by Vince Keith

As an expert sommelier and brewer, I have witnessed the evolution of closures over the years. For centuries, cork was the go-to option for sealing wine bottles. It was considered the traditional and reliable method, ensuring a proper seal and allowing the wine to age gracefully. However, in the latter half of the twentieth century, particularly for inexpensive wines, alternative closures started gaining popularity.

The transition away from cork closures began in the 1980s and has continued to this day. One of the main reasons for this shift was the issue of cork taint, also known as “corked wine.” Cork taint is caused by a compound called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), which can contaminate the wine if the cork is contaminated. This results in an unpleasant musty odor and a loss of flavor and complexity in the wine.

Cork taint became a significant concern for winemakers and consumers alike, as it affected a significant percentage of bottles. This led to the exploration of alternative closures that could provide a consistent and reliable seal without the risk of cork taint. Synthetic corks, screw caps, and glass stoppers emerged as viable alternatives.

Synthetic corks, made from materials like plastic or rubber, were one of the first alternatives to traditional cork closures. They offered a similar appearance to natural cork but without the risk of cork taint. However, they were often criticized for not allowing enough oxygen transfer, which is necessary for wines to age properly.

Screw caps, commonly associated with inexpensive wines and , gained popularity due to their ease of use and ability to provide an airtight seal. They eliminate the risk of cork taint and allow for consistent aging potential. Initially, screw caps were met with skepticism and considered to be of lower quality than cork closures. However, they have proven to be a reliable choice for many wines, particularly those meant to be consumed within a few years of bottling.

Another alternative closure that gained attention was the glass stopper. These elegant closures offer a visually appealing option while still providing an airtight seal. Glass stoppers have been used in certain premium wines, emphasizing the importance of aesthetics alongside functionality.

It's important to note that while alternative closures have gained popularity, natural cork still remains the preferred choice for premium and age-worthy wines. Many consumers and winemakers appreciate the tradition, romance, and aesthetic appeal of cork closures, despite the occasional risk of cork taint. Additionally, natural cork allows for a small amount of oxygen transfer, which can contribute to the development of complex flavors and aromas over time.

The shift away from cork closures began in the 1980s due to concerns over cork taint. Alternative closures such as synthetic corks, screw caps, and glass stoppers emerged as viable options, offering reliability and convenience. However, natural cork closures continue to be favored for premium and age-worthy wines, highlighting the ongoing debate and personal preferences within the wine industry.