Screw Cap With A Guarantee
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed November 4, 2002. For more information go to wineloverspage.com.
It was almost three years ago to the day when The Wine Advisor first reported on the wine industry's growing interest in alternatives to natural cork for closing wine bottles.
Although there was little dispute that alternative closures could solve the pesky problem of wines ruined by "tainted" corks, 300 years of tradition and the romance associated with natural cork would make it difficult for new technologies to oust oak bark from its market-dominant position.
"It's going to take a lot of experimentation before the wine industry can be certain that synthetics, crown caps and screw tops have the durability to protect wine during long-term storage," that early article went. "And it's going to take a lot of marketing before wine lovers give up our attachment to the traditional cork. But I wouldn't bet that the old-fashioned cork won't eventually go the way of the LP phonograph record."
We've taken up this topic again from time to time, and recently it seems that the trend away from natural cork is moving faster than many observers had expected. With Australia and New Zealand in the lead, synthetic corks have become commonplace, especially in less expensive wines. And lately the once-maligned screw cap has been making a strong bid for wine lovers' affection.
In recent years we've seen the boutique California winery Plumpjack offer a screw cap on its $100-plus Cabernet Sauvignon...Riesling producers in Australia's Clare Valley moved en masse to screw caps...California's Bonny Doon Vineyard, an early adopter of synthetic "corks," adopted screw caps this year... and 27 New Zealand wine makers are putting screw caps on many of their vintage 2002 wines.
The more consumers see - and taste - wines closed with screw caps, the less unusual and out of place it seems to find this "cheap-wine" closure on wines of quality and value. New Zealand '02s with screw caps are now finding their way to our local wine shops, and the first one I tried was a revelation.
You might not notice at first that the Jackson Estate 2002 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc isn't stoppered with a cork - high-quality screw caps from modern brands like Stelvin and SuperVin are long and sleek, appearing very much like the traditional "capsule" that covers the business end of most traditionally corked bottles. See a photo of the screw cap used.
But this closure requires no corkscrew, only a firm twist and a gentle snap to break the seal. And the wine within was remarkable, perhaps the freshest and cleanest-tasting Sauvignon Blanc I've enjoyed outside a winery tasting room.
More impressive still, Jackson Estate stands behind the durability of its new seals in a most impressive way, offering on its website this unambiguous pledge: "All our wines sealed with the screwcap wine closure are guaranteed for ten years." That shows corporate confidence. And the wine is worth trying.
If you're interested in more technical information about screw caps, you might enjoy a visit to New Zealand Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative. Some portions of the site remain "under construction," but persistent clicking through the "Technical Information" and subsidiary links leads to interesting details about the construction of modern wine screw caps and their components.