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Screwing down the facts about screw tops

New Zealand has been championing the use of screw caps since it introduced the New Zealand Screwcap Wine Seal initiative in 2001, based on scientific research to reduce spoilage in their wines. 20 years on and the question of are screw caps as good as corks is still one that we are repeatedly asked in the shops. The answer is it depends on a range of factors but that screwcaps can often be the better choice as they have some great attributes that might make them the best choice for a winemaker, as well as being easier to open for the consumer.  

Research has proven that they can reduce the number of wine faults that affect a bottle of wine due to problems with the cork. ‘Corked wine’ is the most mentioned problem, where the wine begins to taste like mouldy newspaper or wet dog. If you ever taste a wine like this, you should always return it as it is the fault caused by a compound (TCA) released by micro-organisms living in the cork itself. It is not, however, the only fault that screw tops can help mitigate.  Another issue with cork is that it can become porous and allow oxygen to sneak into the bottle and oxidise the wine, or as my Mother likes to call it Madeirise the wine. The wine turns a brown colour and starts to taste a little like sherry, which is made through slow purposeful oxidisation, but without the good qualities and depth of flavour found in Sherry. The reduction of spoiled wines alone seems to be a great reason for winemakers to use them.

Screw tops are also cheaper to make and thus cost the winemaker less, a saving that can be passed onto the consumer. They are also great for wines that are designed to be drunk young and fresh as it is thought they enable a wine to retain its freshness for longer. This is great for wines such as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that benefit from tasting crisp and fresh. It is not just Sauvignon producers who have adopted screw caps, many of the world’s Riesling producers have also taken to the technology with great enthusiasm.

The traditional argument is that corks are better for aging wines as they allow tiny amounts of oxygen to permeate into the wine over time, which is thought to be beneficial to the development of wines that are meant to age for a long time. It is worth remembering however that Champagne uses crown caps to age their wines for long periods before they replace them with corks just before releasing them to the public. We should also be aware that screw cap technology has come a long way over and it is now possible to make screw caps that are designed to mimic the micro-oxidation of cork.

For me one of the main attractions of cork is the ritual of opening a bottle, I enjoy getting out my corkscrew and hearing the pop of the cork. It adds theatre to the occasion and although it has no impact on the quality of the wine in the bottle, it does help create a certain atmosphere. The other especially important side of using cork in wine production is the environmental impact of supporting the unique habitats of the cork forests. Wine is not the only industry to utilise cork but I do think it is important to support the management of cork forests through the continued use of traditional cork closures whilst also embracing the benefits of screw caps. To learn more about the environmental benefits of cork forests you can visit this link to the Cork Quality Council

Whatever your personal preference I hope that there is a place in the industry for both options and we begin to think less about which is the best option and more about which is the right option for each wine. For those of you who would like to explore more wines sealed under screwcaps over the next few weeks we have a fantastic promotion on wines produced by one of their original champions – buy any 6 bottles of our New Zealand wines and get 10% off. For more details just click on the following link


By Ed Blacklock


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