Corks vs. Screwcaps
Your sommelier ceremoniously pulls the cork on your bottle of wine. The aromas of violets or plums should fill the air, but you smell the unmistakable funky reek of mold. It is another “corked” wine! Is there a solution to this all-too-common problem?
It is generally agreed that 3 to 5 percent of all bottles with natural corks show some degree of spoilage. The culprit is trichloroanisole, commonly known as TCA. This complex chemical comes from reactions within corks, which involve natural molds and the chlorine bleach used in cork manufacture.
For the last decade or so, there have been plenty of cork substitutes on the market. Some wineries have converted their entire production to synthetic corks. So, the problem is solved, right? Unfortunately, it is not quite that easy.
New technologies have greatly improved synthetic corks. But there are still problems with other synthetic corks, especially the plastic ones. They're hard to pull, and if you like to re-cork a bottle and put it back in the fridge, they are even harder to get back into the neck. Even good corkscrews have problems punching through the denser plastics, and using a two-pronged Ah-So is virtually impossible. If you consider it, the only reason to use a substitute cork is to preserve the ritual of pulling a stopper out of the wine bottle. Is the act of removing a cork such an essential part of the wine-drinking experience?
The very best closure for wine has been around for years. It is easy to use, requires no tools, is airtight and easily resealable. What is this magical device? The screw cap, of course. “But wait!” you are saying. “Doesn't the slow passage of oxygen through a porous stopper help wines age and develop bottle bouquet?” That myth has been debunked. In fact, the screw cap makes the perfect wine closure—no taint, no oxidation, no problem. After all, if screw caps are good enough for $200 bottles of Scotch, why not for $20 bottles of wine?
The adventuresome New Zealand wine industry was the first to adopt screw caps en masse. Many of Australia's producers are in, too. Market-conscious American wineries are still testing the treacherous waters of public opinion on the subject, bottling part of their lineup in screw cap, just to see. The high-end Napa Valley winery Plumpjack put half its $150 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 in screw cap and found that this version sold out first. A few major American producers, including Pepi, Bonny Doon, and Hogue, have taken the plunge. Europeans are proving less receptive, but Gunderloch, in Germany, and Bordeaux's venerable André Lurton, are leading proponents for this closure.