Does Wine Need A Cork?

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Stelvin_1

On a daily basis, I’m asked for wine recommendations.  I take pride in introducing our guests to new and interesting wines, but sometimes I get the old “You gotta be kidding me ” look when I recommend a wine with a screw cap.

Time after time the customer will say,  “A screw cap wine? Really?”  I immediately go into a monologue about how screw caps (or Stelvin Closures, to be more technical) are better for “ready to drink” wines than corks.  Some take my word, while others are still convinced that screw caps equal low quality wine.

SO, I’m going to try and de-mistify the differences between cork and alternative closures.

Q: Why replace the cork in the first place? Doesn’t a screw cap take the romance out of wine?

A: Not as much as opening your favorite bottle of wine on a special night, only to find the notes of wet dog and cardboard instead of cassis and vanilla!

The classic aromas of wet dog, newspaper, and cardboard in a “corked” wine are mostly attributed to the chemical compound TCA (Trichloroanisole.)  TCA  is most commonly found in natural corks but can also grow on cardboard, barrels, even the wood pallets wine is shipped on.  Also, oxidation is frequently the killer of many wines that have been stored inappropriately.  When a wine is stored standing up for long periods of time, the cork can become dried out.  This leaves pockets of air to form and prematurely age the wine.   Many winemakers, driven by the chance that their wines could be flawed by a cork, have started using Stelvin closures.

In my position, I’m privileged to be able to speak to winemakers one on one.  Each time they come to town with their newly capped wine, I ask why they switched.  Most say that, for the white wines in their collection, the screw caps keep the wines fresher.  Others think it’s part of a general trend towards making wine more user friendly.  Hogue Cellars, out of Washington, launched a very public pro screw cap campaign when the results of their 30-month experiment on Cork vs. Screwcaps ended with screw caps as the outright winner.  The results were fresher tasting reds and whites.

Of course, there is the argument of aging.   Corks allow the wine to breathe and age gracefully.  Again, very romantic.  In response, screw cap manufacturers have developed caps that can breathe, allowing high end reds to age as if they had employed traditional closures .

Do I think this is the end of corks?  No.  I believe that wine and corks will exist simultaneously.  Over the past few years, the cork industry has lowered the percentage of cork taint from about 6 to 4, some sources say as little as 1.  However, this does not take away from the fact that screw caps are becoming a more viable, respected, and convenient way to seal wine.