The last time I went wine tasting at a luxury winery with a friend from out of town, our first wine of the flight was a Sauvignon Blanc. The server showed the wine bottle to us and then proceeded to unscrew the cap from the bottle.
My friend was gobsmacked at the idea that such a high-end place would serve a wine with a screwcap. If he felt this way—and he considers himself an expert—many wine drinkers could benefit from shedding some light on the use of screwcaps, and why it’s actually a huge step forward.
The Problem With Corks
About five percent of corks leach a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA) into the wine. It’s harmless to humans, but it destroys the character of the wine. It smells like moldy, wet cardboard, and wines that have TCA, commonly known as a “corked” wine, are flabby, uninteresting and dull.
If consumers aren’t aware that their wine is corked they may just think it’s a bad wine and never purchase it again. This presents a real problem for many vintners who hope to impress you so much you buy their wines again and again. Plus, not many industries have a closure with a five percent fail rate. It’s a huge loss! That’s why many wineries are switching some wines in their portfolios to screwcaps: Because it’s the best guarantee that their customers will receive a fresh, untainted wine every time.
Some Wines Are Just Better With Screwcaps
Certain wines are better suited to screwcaps because they are made to be enjoyed soon after bottling. Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, Riesling, Beaujolais Nouveau, Chardonnay and white blends are ideal for screwcaps because they are usually not designed to be aged. Corks allow a bit of oxygen to enter the wine, so for now cork is the best choice for the expensive reds you plan to keep in your cellar for a special occasion.
You will see Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and some red blends in screwcaps. If you purchase reds in a screwcap, drink them soon. The winery did not mean for those wines to be cellared.
When my friend shook his head in disgust at the screwcapped Sauvignon Blanc, he muttered “It’s just not traditional.” I couldn’t help but think to myself that, traditionally, wine was stored in clay jars and stoppered with oily rags. The understanding of how new technology can provide a more positive wine experience has benefitted us in so many ways.
In my humble opinion, screwcaps are just the next tradition in the ever-evolving world of wine.