The Screwcap Marches on – 28.02.14

Way back in 2001 almost everyone (me included) thought decent wine came in bottles with a cork in the neck; anything with a screwcap was either cheap plonk in 2.5 litre bottles or sweet sherry. It is pretty obvious that the screwcap closure is now the preferred closure for wine bottles and I don’t want to get into arguing the case for the continued use but I do think it is worth reflecting on their use just a little.

When screwcaps were first launched into the market in mid-2001 and there were many naysayers who couldn’t imagine everyday quality wines, let alone premium wines, being sealed with anything other than cork.

Obviously there were many questions asked – “What’s wrong with corks?”. “Isn’t changing to screwcaps a sales risk, especially for exporters?” “Will wine sealed with a screwcap still develop with age?” The romantics said “corks pop as you pull the cork, the click of a screwcap just won’t be the same”

The consumer has spoken, the screwcap now rules the world of wine closures in New Zealand, Australia and many other countries; almost all of the questions have been answered with a resounding endorsement of the screwcap. The only question still being debated is about how wines age under screwcap and I think enough time has passed to give a positive but slightly qualified answer to that one too.

I say qualified because only time has been able to prove how wines age and we are still waiting for some wines to mature, in particular heavy bodied red wines. What I can say with confidence is that well-made white wines and lighter red wines mature magnificently when sealed with a screwcap.

I have been determined enough to keep my hands off a number of wines in our cellar that were produced in the early 2000’s, some sealed with a cork and many with a screwcap. In recent months we have been opening a few to enjoy.

It has been interesting to compare wines sealed with different closures. Those 2002 and 2003 wines sealed with screwcaps have almost always maintained freshness while developing some nice complexities and none have been faulty while we have had mixed results with wines of the same age sealed with cork. Some have been beautiful while others have been oxidised or affected by cork taint (smells and tastes mouldy) and I would estimate about 20% were faulty in one way or another.

Because wines sealed with a screwcap age more slowly many producers of premium full-bodied red wines are still choosing to use cork closures, having absolute faith that the small amount of air corks allow into the bottle will aid the aging process, for me this just means we need to wait a bit longer before we enjoy those sealed with a screwcap and that is the reason for the qualified success, we just need to wait another few years to prove big red wines can age elegantly under screwcaps. I believe these wines do retain all of the wonderful characters the winemakers worked so hard to achieve in the wine when sealed with a screwcap while corks will always be a risky proposition.

If you are one of the few cork die-hards who yearn for the romantic pop of a cork it is time to get over it, I say bugger the romance of the pop – give me great wine! And the vast majority of you agree.