Winemaker's Journal - November 2013

Screw Caps: a Stylistic Choice

Pulling cork from wine bottles has been ritualized by enophiles ever since Dom Pèrignon began finishing his Champagne with hand-whittled plugs in the 17th Century. Since then, natural cork went unchallenged until the advent of synthetic corks in the 1990s. Today, those of us who make wine have many closure options, each with pros and cons affecting wine quality and its enjoyment.

Background

Over the last 30 years, we have all witnessed beverage packaging evolve with changes in consumer demand and the innovation of materials. Some of my favorites include beer cans with wider mouths, reclosable caps on juice cartons, and milk in recyclable bricks requiring no refrigeration. The same holds true for wine where new packaging has made it available in bottles, boxes, bags, kegs, bricks and cans.

Wine closures have also evolved. In addition to natural cork, I can now choose agglomerated (granulated cork and resin), glass stoppers, synthetic and screw caps. Still, some purists consider natural cork to be the only choice.

With all of these options, why wouldn’t winemakers at least consider alternative closures? The answer is that many of my colleagues have already moved away from cork (80-90% are using screw caps in Australia and New Zealand) while others are using a combination of natural cork and alternatives. Furthermore, screw caps can even be found on wines retailing for over $100.

Myths About Wine Corks

In recent years, I’ve discovered a handful of common misconceptions about wine closures:

  • Cork supply is scarce/cork trees are an endangered species.
  • Harvesting the bark kills the cork trees.
  • Cork is unreliable because of cork taint.
  • Winemakers only choose alternative closures to cut packaging costs.

Alternative Closures at Cinnabar

After considering the available options, I now use both natural cork and screw caps as a stylistic choice because one closure does not suit all wine types. I prefer natural cork for wines with aging potential such as Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay or Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I started using screw caps on some white wines (e.g. Monterey Chardonnay and Incantation Blanc) because the tight seal helps maintain freshness. I later applied that reasoning to a handful of reds (e.g. Paso Robles Merlot and Mercury Rising) where I found it to be equally beneficial.

Screw caps:

  • Are easy to use
  • Eliminate the need for “tools” or physical strength
  • Can be quickly opened and closed in restaurants selling wine by the glass
  • Offer less bottle variation due to their non-organic nature

With many options available today, I use a combination of natural cork and screw caps because it enhances the enjoyment of Cinnabar wines. Natural cork is still the benchmark for some winemakers, but screw caps have helped temper wine’s elite perception. After centuries of little-to-no change, wine closures are now evolving quickly, and screw caps have played a major role in that evolution.

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