But it doesn't mean we're completely biased against screw caps.
Over the years, we’ve discussed plenty of studies (typically funded by the cork industry) suggesting that sealing a bottle with a cork as opposed to a screw cap creates a better wine drinking experience. Frankly, on a purely visceral level that’s hard to argue with — though at the same time, who hasn’t been viscerally ticked off when they want to open a bottle and can’t find a damn corkscrew? Screw caps have other advantages as well. And yet, as a new study published in the Journal of Wine Economics found, Americans still believe the cork to be superior, at least when voting with their wallets.
A pair of researchers from Montana State University used grocery store sales data from over one million wine purchases from 2009 to 2012 in ten large U.S. markets and determined that American shoppers are willing to pay about $1 more on average (approximately an eight percent price increase) for wine with a cork. The study focused on wines under $30 in price “to more accurately evaluate decisions of consumers for whom seeking additional information about wine quality is likely more costly than the benefits derived from that information.” To put that another way, they wanted to look at people who might actually use how the wine was sealed as part of their decision-making process; if you’re buying a $100 bottle of wine, you probably wouldn’t suddenly change your mind because it has a screw cap.
As an interesting side note, the authors also discovered the premium value given for bottles with corks “increases for lower-priced wines and decreases for more expensive wines. This suggests that for relatively low-priced wines — for which prices provide little or highly uncertain information of expected quality — consumers place more value on cork closures relative to the sales price.”
This finding is especially interesting on a practical level: If we assume that two average bottles of wine are of equal quality regardless of closure type, and people are paying a $1 premium for wine with a cork, then, in theory, spending that same amount on a screw cap bottle of wine would mean you’re getting a better value wine. Though if the average person also associates corks with better wine, showing up to a dinner party with a screw cap wine may leave people thinking your wine isn’t up to snuff. As a result, maybe when trying to impress your ill-informed friends, go with a cork, but when looking for a bargain to accompany a night in front of Netflix, go screw cap.