What matters is the wine on the inside of the bottle, right? Maybe long-term if the wine is good but I think the initial reason most people buy wines [especially on store shelves] is packaging. A bright-colored label will attract the attention of a consumer far more quickly than a dreary looking one, so market savvy is really important in the all competitive field of wine-making.
Perhaps the most contentious of these packaging issues is that of the way in which we seal our wines. Keep in mind that the type of closure used, can really affect the perception of the consumer to the quality of the wine [before they have even tasted it]
The romantic closure is no doubt cork, an impermeable material harvested from the Quercus Suber [the cork oak] which is endemic to Southwest Europe and Northwest Africa. Portugal produces roughly 50% of the cork harvested.
Once trees are 25 years old, cork is stripped from the trunks every 10 years with the trees being able to grow for roughly 200 years. There is approximately 2.2 million hectares of cork forest worldwide with over 30% again in Portugal.
The cork industry is generally regarded as environmentally friendly, with the sustainability and easy recycling of cork products two of its most distinctive aspects. So far so good.
As a closure it is well suited, it is easily compressed and expands once inserted into the bottle to create a tight seal. This characteristic makes it perfect for a wide variety of bottle types and necks. So the question arises as to why more wine-makers and producers are looking at other forms of closures and moving away from cork.
There are natural flaws in cork, cracks in the bark make the cork highly inconsistent, and in a 2005 study [45% of corks showed gas leakage during pressure testing. The biggest negative of cork however, is that it can affect the quality of the wine, ever return a bottle at a restaurant because it was CORKED.
The cause of this problem 2,4,6-trichloroanisole [just checking to see if I spelled this correctly, yup] TCA can make a wine smell mouldy or like a wet dog, not exactly what you want to get from a wine. Everyone’s perception is different but generally is measured in part per trillion [a little goes a long way]. TCA is occurs when natural airborne fungi are presented with chlorophenol compounds [ironically enough, chlorophenols can also be a product of the bleaching process used to sterilize corks]. So, I make a wine that is fruity, varietally correct and it becomes spoiled by cork, not only does that drive me bonkers, but imagine a consumer tries that wine for the first time, quite a first impression and not in a good way, so why I not immediately switch to a closure that protects the wine? Well, as mentioned, because of consumer perception, and the fact that a corks makes a pop when you pull it out of the bottle.
It is accepted that New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are bottled under screw caps, but why not Opus One or Petrus. I would suggest that these fine wines would lose a lot of its luster if bottled under screw caps, and could they still command the prices they do on the market [food for thought]
Screw caps first and foremost are cheaper than cork, they provide a tight seal preserving the wines aromatic integrity and freshness and impart no TCA to the wine. But these wines might become reductive [the opposite of oxidation] and start smelling like rotten eggs or even in some cases like burnt rubber through a process called sulphidization. The winemaker needs to know what he/she is doing. So screw caps seem like a quick fix and viable option, but maybe not?
An often cited contradiction is the case of experiments conducted by Haute Brion in the 70’s where some of their wines were bottled under screw caps, the results. After about 10 years the screw caps became compromised and let air in, but I ask you, how many wines are being laid down for 10 years or more, but then again I do not have a cellar full of Haute Brion.
There is certainly a shift towards alternative closures to better protect the consumer against flaws which us wine makers have no control over. Will screw caps be taken seriously as a closure for fine wine, I challenge you to find 10 examples of wines above $100 that have screw caps, I can give you one though, Molydooker’s Carnival of Love, a 96 point wine also rated as a top ten wine in the world by the Wine Spectator.
Whatever your opinion on closure, may I suggest judging the wine by the quality of the wine, ultimately for me, that is what is important. Who cares if it is in a pink bottle with a blue cork, if the wine is good, I can live with that.
Man, this wine world is confusing, I have a feeling that I may never quite understand it
Maybe that is why I am so drawn to it
Winemaker for Keswick Vineyards