The study of US consumer preferences was conducted in partnership with The Portuguese Cork Association (APCOR) and California-based Cork Quality Council. An additional survey released by APCOR found that 89% of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2016 are sealed with cork closures.
Roughly 68% of respondents believe that natural cork wine closures are “an indication of high-quality or very high-quality wine” compared to 13% who thought the same to be true of screw caps.
“Cork is a sign of tradition and ageability,” Peter Weber, executive director of the Cork Quality Council, told BeverageDaily.
When respondents were asked what they "like" about natural cork using an open-ended question format in which participants typed in their answers, 35% said preferred cork because it was “classic” and “traditional”, 27% mentioned that they like the experience of opening the bottle citing the "ritual" or the “pop.”
Varying preferences by market
There is certainly a consumer perception of corked wine being more of a luxury product, but this premium association varies by market, Madeline Puckette, sommelier and author of Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine, said.
A high majority of European wine drinkers prefer cork stoppers to alternative wine closures with 95% of Spanish wine drinkers and 83% of French consumers preferring wine closed with cork stoppers, according to de Jesus.
However, “If you were to ask people in Australia and New Zealand of their perception of corks versus screw caps, they would overwhelmingly prefer screw caps because those two countries produce wines almost entirely under screw caps for their own drinking market,” Puckette said.
This prevalence of screw caps was due to decreased access to quality cork in 1980s that put Australia and New Zealand at the bottom of the list for cork shipments, according to Puckette.
“The Australian Wine Board chose to solve the problem by moving the market towards screw caps almost entirely,” she said.
“Of course they discovered through exporting their wines that Americans and other countries were not so excited about wines that aren’t corked.”
Australia and New Zealand have adjusted the packaging of many of their wine exports to corked wine instead of screw caps as a result of an international preference towards cork.
A case for cork alternatives
While the experience of opening a bottle is important to many consumers, it does not always have to be cork, Puckette said.
“The process of removing a cork is a ritual associated with wine drinking and that’s totally gone with a screw cap, but that’s not to say there aren’t other great cork alternatives,” she said.
Nomacorc is a synthetic alternative to cork closures that, like cork, is fully recyclable and allows consumers to experience the same pop of opening a bottle of wine but controls oxygen ingress more effectively, Puckette said.
“After wine making is done, things still continue to happen inside the bottle,” she said.
“You cannot gauge the amount of ingress that travels through a cork product, but you can gauge and measure the oxygen ingress in noncork products.”
However, it will take a major shift in consumer acceptance of synthetic closure alternatives before they become the norm in the wine market.
“The problem is because consumers have this ritual and luxury associations with glass products and 100% natural products, we want to afford these natural, luxury products and a natural cork seems much more appealing to us than a polyethylene cork,” Puckette said.