Maybe youíve noticed screwcaps on more of the higher priced wines lately. The trend is continuing to grow and so is the debate of whether a screwcap or cork is better for wine. The industry has basically “agreed to disagree” as to whether wine bottled with a screwcap or a cork tastes better, ages better and has less of a tendency to spoil.
As more wineries consider using screwcaps instead of the traditional cork, one has to wonder how the public at large will accept the change in tradition. When the occasional wine drinker sees a $20 bottle of wine with a screwcap, will he move to the next bottle on the shelf because he conjuring thoughts in his mind of his college years and Boones Farm Apple Wine?
Corks hold tradition and romance for a bottle of wine. It’s hard to imagine dining at a fine eating establishment and ordering a bottle of wine without expecting the waiter pull out his corkscrew. Watching him carefully cut the foil, masterfully twist the screw into the cork, and giving it a pull with a final, ever so slight, pop, is part of what we pay for when we order a bottle of wine. It’s shear romance; it’s a moment we hold in our memory of a nice dining experience.
Why would a winery want to change an age-old tradition that holds so much charm? Well, apparently the occurrence of wines being spoiled because of the cork is a fairly large problem. One report from the International Wine Challenge, the world’s largest wine competition, states that nearly one in 20 bottles, or 4.9% of the 11,033 bottles opened at that competition had spoiled or the flavor had been flattened because of the cork.
How is the cork responsible for the ruin of so much wine? Cork is a tree bark and when wine corks are manufactured, chlorine bleach is used for cleaning and brightening the color. When the bleach comes in contact with the natural molds that are present in the cork, a reaction occurs and a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA) is produced. If this chemical comes in contact with the wine, it will cause it to taste like damp cardboard. When this happens the wine is then referred to as being “corked”, and it is undrinkable.
Screwcaps have proven themselves to be a better alternative to cork. First developed in Australia, the brand name for screwcaps used for wine is Stelvin, so you will often hear them referred to as such. These caps are not the same as those used for food and drink; these caps are specially designed to protect fine wines from tainting for a period of time and to allow for aging. Basically the part of the cap that actually contacts the wine is made from a thin coating of Teflon film over pure tin, this gives the cap the capability to stay stable and flavor-neutral for a very long time.
There are some screwcap critics that say the Stelvin caps don’t allow for proper “breathing” so the wine can age, however, this is a myth. If a cork is perfect and works the way it is supposed to work, it will not allow air into the bottle. Actually, oxygen is potentially harmful to the wine and very unnecessary for the aging process. To quote a leading Bordeaux authority Professor Pascal RibÈreau-Gayon in the ìHandbook of Enologyî,
ìreactions that take place in bottled wine do not require oxygenî.
And one more authority, Professor Emile Peynaud of Bordeaux says,
ìit is the opposite of oxidation, a process of reduction, or asphyxia by which wine develops in the bottleî
So, as we watch a trend develop of vintners moving toward using screwcaps we, the wine-drinking public, are just going to have to come to terms with the fact that screwcaps have proven themselves. Because of the Stelvin, we consumers will be able to enjoy better preserved and better tasting wine in the years to come. Actually, instead of thinking about moving to the next bottle on the shelf because of the screwcap, we should be seeking out the wine that delights your palate regardless of whether it uses a screwcap or not.