When you buy your next bottle of wine, ensure that it has a natural cork!
You will be very unlikely to find a wine with a screw cap in Spain. Real corks (and some synthetic corks) still dominate, predominantly because Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula in general, are the worlds largest producer of cork.
However, that said their us no difference between screw caps and corks as far as wine is concerned. In fact, it could be argued (and many New World winemakers are in agreement) that screw cap trumps cork! That said, there are a few caveats here. Firstly screw caps are definitely better for the winemaker, because they are significantly cheaper than cork, so naturally they want to use them instead! Secondly, for young, and even some aged wines screw caps can preserve the wine better by not letting ANY air into the bottle. But that cannot be said for vintage wines that would benefit from many more years of bottle aging. They would still definitely require the slow micro-oxygenation provided by cork!
The most convincing argument against screw caps (and even synthetic enclosures) is that they are not necessarily as environmentally friendly as cork. No trees are cut down to harvest cork. Instead the spongy bark is stripped from the trees every nine years by skilled workers using handheld axes. The bark slowly grows back and the trees frequently live to well over 200 years. The natural regeneration of the bark makes cork oak very effective in absorbing carbon dioxide, the gas blamed most for global warming. It estimates that the amount of CO2 absorbed as a result of each summer's harvest equals the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 185,000 cars.
It is claimed that synthetic plastic bottle stoppers are responsible for 10 times more CO2 than their natural cork rivals, while screw caps produce 24 times more emissions.
However, due to the worldwide decline in demand for cork products (including natural wine stoppers), the majority of existing cork forests across Portugal and South Western Spain have not been sustainably managed, and are being eradicated in favour of more profitable plantations. And this is leading to another environmental issue as the Iberian Lynx preys almost exclusively on the European rabbit, also lives in the same cork forests. But with cork tree deforestation the supply of rabbit prey has dwindled and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is the now the most threatened wild cat species in the world!
The Iberian lynx is an eminently forest species and prefers heterogeneous environments of open grassland mixed with dense shrubs and forests such as holm oak and cork oak. And these sparsely populated cork forests in particular have developed into some of Europe's richest eco-systems, and a valuable sanctuary for many endangered species not only the Iberian lynx, but the black stork and imperial eagle as well.
In the 20th century, the Iberian lynx population declined dangerously due to a sharp decline in the rabbit population, caused by disease, overhunting, fragmentation of habitats and poaching. At a minimum each Lynx requires approximately one rabbit per hectare in it’s natural habitat.
Conservation measures implemented since 2002 included improving habitat, restocking of rabbits, translocating and re-introducing Iberian lynxes, so that the current population had increased to over 300 individuals. As an attempt to save this species from extinction, an EU LIFE project is underway that includes habitat preservation, lynx population monitoring, and rabbit population management.
With synthetic cork alternatives accounting for more than a third of the global market for wine bottle tops, conservationists fear landowners could switch to higher yield alternatives such as fast-growing eucalyptus trees.
Eucalyptus trees were originally imported from Australia in the 1970s to supply the European paper industry, and are already widespread across the Iberian Peninsula. Today the EU Habitats Directive prohibits destruction of lynx habitats, yet without the availability of EU funds, many dams and roads would not be built, bushland bulldozed or new plantations installed. Vital lynx habitats have been omitted - sometimes in mysterious circumstances, from the EU Natura 2000 network of European wildlife areas, and ultimately, the majority of lynx territories remain unprotected.