The wine industry is abuzz, and it’s not about the new harvest. Winemakers across the globe have been popping their corks — literally — in favor of metal screw caps. Yep, the same ones that for years were a clear sign that the vino you were about to consume was of the jug variety.
But the negative image screw caps have been saddled with is slowly but surely being reversed as a veritable who’s who of the winemaking industry has begun using them for even their most prized wines. Metal screw caps provide an airtight seal, no contamination of the wine and are extremely easy to remove (who hasn’t struggled with a testy corkscrew?). Within the industry, it’s generally accepted that screw caps are a far superior closure method for wine bottles, particularly for wines meant to be drunk young, which make up 95% of the marketplace.
Corks offer drama and romance (I doubt any wine taster has ever asked to sniff a screw cap) but from a technical standpoint, they’ve got issues. One of the biggest problems is their susceptibility to contamination by trichloranisole (TCA), a chemical compound that forms when the chlorine used to bleach the cork reacts with mold already growing on it. This reaction produces a musty, nasty taste and aroma, rendering the bottle “corked.” Industry experts estimate that as many as 10% of the wine in the marketplace today is affected by this condition.
Also, corks need to be kept moist, as a dry cork can crumble upon removal or can shrink, which allows air into the bottle as well as leakage. Synthetic corks were introduced several years ago as a possible remedy to the problems of natural cork, but many consumers complained that they were hard to remove and gave the wine a plastic taint.
The fear that consumers would be appalled by unscrewing the cap from a $150 bottle of wine is what kept many winemakers from making the switch. Australian winemakers were some of the first to begin using screw caps in the 1990s. Buoyed by the great results enjoyed by the Aussies, winemakers from across the world began testing the waters a few years later.
While some wine lovers remain wary, the fact that screw caps can virtually guarantee the maintenance of a wine’s integrity is convincing consumers of their merit. Wine industry guru Robert Parker predicted in the October 2004 issue of Food and Wine magazine that wine bottles with corks would be the minority by 2015, and many think this shift will come even sooner. Like it or not, screw caps are here to stay.