If you read last month’s column, you’ll remember that we discussed cork, where it comes from, and how it can potentially compromise a bottle of wine, resulting in what’s called a “corked” bottle. This month, we’re going to learn about screw caps.
The screw cap (also referred to as Stelvin closures, because Stelvin is the brand that pioneered the aluminum closure revolution) was invented in the 1960s in a partnership between an Australian winery and a French manufacturing company in an effort to eliminate cork taint, which, you may remember, affects an estimated 10 to 15 percent of wines. Screw closures had been used for years already on other food products, so why not on wine?
A study says 52 percent of American wine drinkers object to use of screw caps. Why? The biggest assumption is that the wine is cheap. But that isn’t necessarily the case. PlumpJack Winery is famous for putting half their reserve cabernet in screw cap-closed bottles for the past ten vintages, and that wine retails for $135 a bottle. Other notable U.S. wineries using screw caps include Benton Lane and Argyle, two of my favorite Oregon Pinot Noir producers.
When debating the two different methods for sealing a wine bottle, cork fans try to trump the argument with the theory that “cork helps improve the wine during aging.” First of all, most wine isn’t meant to be aged all that long. Almost 90 percent of all wine is designed to be consumed within a couple years of being produced. The masses aren’t collecting wine; they are going to the store, buying a bottle and drinking it that evening. At Cork, we have older vintage wines on the list, but by far, the majority of wines we sell are current vintage.
In addition, research performed over the past 50 years on screw caps’ ability to age wine has shown quite the opposite. Wines with cork closure need to be stored horizontally to prevent too much oxygen (another wine contaminant, in large amounts) from entering the bottle. Screw-cap wines can be stored vertically or even upside down. And, screw caps preserve the wine’s aromatic freshness. Screw cap-aged wines show no signs of color variance.
I’d like to close with two thoughts: First, a cork was the best means of sealing a bottle winemakers had found since the late 17th century, when winemakers previously used oil-soaked rags. Screw caps are a new and better technology. And technology doesn’t regress (would you like to go back to snail mail and land lines?).
Second, being in the restaurant industry, I present an analogy people understand, using food: If a meat purveyor told a chef that 15 percent of all the meat he purchased would be contaminated with a nasty flavor and he would be unaware which pieces were bad until the guest took a bite, the chef wouldn’t buy from that meat seller.
• Robert Morris is owner and manager at East Valley restaurants Cork, BLD and Stax Burger Bistro. Reach him at (480) 883-3773 or CorkRestaurant.net