If you have bought wine recently, you could not have failed to have noticed a definitive move towards the acceptance of screwcap closures for wines. In the majority of Wine company portfolios we have seen many wines sealed under screwcap compared to only a few around 2002. This is not by accident or a move toward lesser quality, but more a deliberate decision on the part of Importers and the quality conscious producers around the world.
What are the Real Issues with Cork?
Over the last two hundred years or so, due to the increase in popularity of wine, the wine industry has been forced to use more and more cork and, as cork is harvested from trees that are approximately ten years old, the supply has not managed to keep up with the demand. This has unfortunately led to a much higher use of pesticides and wood preservatives to mature the cork quicker. These treatments on the trees are what many consider to be responsible for the large increase in corked wine.
Natural cork is unreliable and contaminated corks can spoil the end product, producing musty, rather mouldy characteristics caused by TCA (trichloroanisole, a chemical component that produces undesirable aromas and flavour characteristics)
Although a wine can sometimes be visibly musty, in other cases the taint is subtle, simply flattening the fresh fruitiness of the wine and decreasing ones enjoyment and the overall quality. The actual incidence of ‘corked’ wine is hard to pinpoint, but estimates range from around one in eight bottles to one in twenty! Whichever figure you take, it adds up to a lot of spoilt wine!
Screw caps on the other hand have an almost 0% fail rate! They can also be recycled easily and have been used to age wine now for many years, even producers in Champagne have aged their wines with screw caps with no told negative impact
The second issue relates to the quality of the closure. Corks are variable. Some are perfect closures, as good as any screwcap, while others are less than perfect, and let in far too much oxygen. In the latter case, oxidation is a greater enemy than TCA.
The ‘Stelvin’ Closure
So Why is the Wine Industry backing the screwcap closure?
First and foremost, quality is important. Research indicates screwcaps are a better closure for wine. They are not perfect, but they are a step in the right direction. Winemakers using screwcaps feel that they give them a guarantee that the quality of the wine they are serving to their customers is exactly as it was when the winemaker put it in the bottle.
Strangely enough, the greatest challenge faced by the Wine World concerning the introduction of screw capped wines will be the shift required in public perception. However over the past few years, we have seen many of London’s top restaurants make the move to screw caps and high profile screwcap supporters such as winemakers Bob and Cherie Berton of Berton Estates, Roberto Echeverria of Echeverria Estates, Vanya Cullen, Kim Crawford and Charles Melton add weight to the argument.
What’s so good about screw caps?
Winemakers who champion screw caps believe they provide secure seals that don’t allow leakage or air into the wine, which can result in oxidation. The wine therefore stays fresh and lively for longer without the risk of cork taint.
There have been some negative comments from trade, occasionally consumers, and of course the cork industry. Much of this negative comment, however, is based on misinformation. Yes, screwcaps do allow the wine to age, albeit at a slower rate than cork; reductive characters can be present in any wine, but these are winemaking faults, not a reaction to the screwcap; and oxygen is not necessary in ageing bottle wine, red or white. The Australian Closure Fund (ACF) has tested screwcaps over the past 35 years to determine their long-term effectiveness and some of the world’s best (and most expensive) wines are now sealed under stelvin.
Look at it another way. Imagine that screwaps were the accepted closure for wines, and somebody came along saying that they had this piece of tree bark that would look very nice in bottles and would enhance the ceremony of wine drinking by enabling people to flourish a new invention called the corkscrew and make a nice pop when the cork is pulled out. They only problem is that about 10% of the bottles would be tainted. Would they go for such a change? I doubt it.
What about Plastic Corks?
And if you were wondering about plastic corks, the answer to that is that they are not great on a number of levels;
They are not a memory material so you cant age wine with plastic well
- The Plastic can react negatively with the wine due to the chemicals used
- They do not fit back in the bottle to reseal it
- They are very un-eco-friendly!
At present, until Screwcaps become the Norm and we wonder why we ever used cork, you must ask yourself; Do I want the pop of the cork as I open the bottle, or do I want the wine to be guaranteed fresh as the Producer intended it?I was a ‘Corkophile’, but as the years have gone by, I can now see the light!
THE EXPERTS VERDICTS ON SCREWCAPS
‘As Charles Melton, who’s just put his Barossa reds under stelvin (screwcap) puts it: “There is sufficient oxygen ingress under stelvin to enable the wines to develop their full potential in bottle. I fully expect that when we compare the wines in five years time, those under stelvin will be the better wines. They will have developed some of the excellent bottle-aged characters but will have a finer degree of fruit purity.
Anthony Rose, The Independent Magazine
Malcolm Gluck, The Guardian
The screwcap is becoming acknowledged as the best way of preventing corkiness, preserving freshness and adding convenience. Today’s shock is tomorrow’s norm.
Anthony Rose, The Independent Magazine
The other agenda item that is getting bigger every year is cork. The traditional way of plugging a wine bottle is a survivor of seventeenth century technology.
If your ancestors had screwcaps for their bottles they would have used them and so should we. Corks, unfortunately, can taint wine with a specific mould at an alarming rate. Some estimate between five and ten per cent of all bottles are more or less corked. If the public recognised even half of the affected bottles wine-producers would go bust. Nor is there any argument for a permeable stopper for the ninety per cent of wines that will be opened with months or so. Except nostalgia. Is the romance of wine worth a one in ten chance of a bad bottle? You decide. And when you do, buy your daily wines from suppliers with the courage to use modern stoppers.
Hugh Johnson, Pocket Wine Book
Another bonus for consumers is the way screwcaps have thrown off their Lambrusco-tainted reputation to become the closure of choice. I predict that by the end of the year, one in 20 bottles will be sealed with a screwcap.
Tim Atkin, The Observer Magazine
From the point of view of drinking wine in good condition, Stelvin certainly makes sense and I say that even though I enjoy the evening’s ritual cork pulling.
Joanna Simon, The Sunday Times
Stelvin screw caps were developed in France specifically for wines and have been used by some wineries for their library stock for decades. At a tasting in London, when the identities and the seals of the (16) Rieslings were revealed, the results were clear: the wines with corks had a flatter, duller flavour. I can’t wait for the Australian Riesling revolution to reach wines from other grapes made in other countries.
Robert Joseph, The Sunday Telegraph
Those who have chosen twist-offs are not only wise, and brave, but eventually they’ll end up being regarded as heroes because they have your best interestsnot their images – in mind. They won’t risk having their wines tainted by badcorks, and, likewise, they want you to enjoy their wine in its purest form. They know it’s what’s in the bottle that counts, not what seals it.
James Laube, Wine Spectator