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Pax Vinifera, Part I – Screwcaps vs. Corks

   Brace yourselves friends, for I am about to break character: this is a call for peace. For any of you who know me well, I will give you a moment to get back into an upright position. . . all better? Fantastic. For those of you who do not know me as well, let me offer a bit of insight; I am often a slave to my passion. As such, I rarely ever temper said passion, as I feel that to truly embrace a passion you must let it burn hot and bright. However, as I have stated before, this is a call for peace. Perhaps an explanation is in order.

   You see, I do not necessarily look like a common wine professional. And I am fine with that. In fact, it has long been a hobby of mine to send people’s eyebrows racing into their hairline at every opportunity and I relish these moments. The juxtaposition between my appearance and my profession is an extension of this. So, when I shop for wine at other retailers, I am often amused by fellow wine professionals and their demeanors when dealing with me. I bring this up simply to illustrate that most wine professionals who do not know me personally would not assume I work in the industry and tend to let their true snobbery run wild. Often times, I am treated well, as the wine world is changing (albeit slowly, in this regard) and wine drinkers, and consequently wine professionals, are becoming a bit younger and more liberal. However, I am often faced with an elitist wine professional or a consumer who loves to assault me with their judgemental philosophies concerning my purchases. For instance, I am a big fan of Charles Smith. He produces wonderful wines at affordable prices. In my eyes, his QPR (qulaity-to-price-ratio) is one of the best. However, his labels are bold, brash and unforgiving, which is frowned upon in some minds. Also, I believe he bottles exclusively under screwcap (please correct me if I am wrong) and this is another point of contention among certain sects of the industry. When I sit down to think about the state of the wine industry and these hot points, I am faced with the big controversies in the wine world right now. So, I decided to make a list and call everyone out now and stop all this silliness. Here goes.

   Round 1: Screwcap vs. Corks

   I know, I know. I can feel my hair being blown back from the collective sigh. This topic has epitomized the metaphor of beating the proverbial horse. As a fan of the Romance Of The Cork (if you must know, I collect them, because I am a wine geek),  I am always a bit disappointed by having to twist my wine open. However, that disappointment often fades very quickly, so long as the juice is good. After all, we are in this for the wine folks, not the closure. Priorat, my favorite region, could close their wine under marshmallow and so long as the quality remained the same (though I doubt it would, I was just making a point) I would still buy it. I hear a lot of arguing about slow oxidation of wine contributing to its maturation and how screwcaps (because they don’t allow oxygen) would prohibit this phenomenon. Well, the jury is still out, though not entirely devoid of a potential verdict. The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) conducted a test with Semillon that is on point. They took thousands of bottles of 1999 Clare Semillon from Leasingham and aged them under perfect conditions for 10 years using 14 different closures. Once a year, a bottle representing each of the closures was opened in the lab and tasted and analyzed by researchers. After a decade of aging, yep, you guessed it, the screwcap held up best and the wine portrayed classicly aged Semillon characteristics. All other closures varied in efficacy with traditional cork bringing up the rear. Now, is this single research study absolutely conclusive? Of course not. Especially, when one considers that Australia was among the first to advocate the benefits of screwcaps, while simultaneously bottling millions of cases that way. On the flipside, Portugal has released numerous studies advocating corks (most cork comes from Portugal) and blaming “cork taint” on all sorts of other sources, including wineries themselves.

   So, is there a clear winner in this argument? Absolutely. The consumer. I use this to my advantage. Until there is enough history with bottles closed under screwcap, I only buy screwcaps for immediate, or near immediate, consumption. The reason? I know they will keep until I can get to them and while all my children of the cork lie sleeping in various states of maturation, my screwcaps stand straight, tall and proud above them, frontline soldiers in the quest for the perfect evening.

   How about you? Any feelings? I encourage you to jump right in…

   Next week, Pax Vinifera Part II: The great alcohol debate.

   Stay tuned.

10 thoughts on “Pax Vinifera, Part I – Screwcaps vs. Corks

  1. Not ever one to dismiss the romance aspect of wine. Wine touches so many parts of what we’re all all about, but think if we were to “invent” wine today. Would we say “…and let’s put it in a heavy glass container and stop it up with a piece of tree bark.”I say let’s put our eggs in the basket of best return on investment. We may not for sure know which basket that is, but we know it’s definitely not the cork basket.

  2. Doug-a “cork basket?!?”. . .brilliant!!! Now I know what to do with all of my corks! I am officially going into the basket-making business…Blaine-I have to challenge your position. Every second of every day peoples perceptions are being changed. That is the very essence of education in all its forms, isn’t it? I know for a fact that I will know more of the world I inhabit today than I did yesterday and as such my perceptions will change to accommodate this knowledge. The only way peoples perceptions will not change, is if they refuse to grow. And that amount of cynicism, even I cannot manage.

  3. Blaine- It’s interesting that you should mention a “Utopian World”. . .I can’t think of an example more relative than an entire social construct dependant on an individual’s perceptions matching the collective, then remaining stagnant. It’s in a Utopian Society where peoples perceptions would have to remain the same. So, technically speaking, in a Utopian World its YOU who would be right. However, living in a world that required people to be forever the same and never change their own point of reference seems less like a dream and more like a nightmare. Of course, that is just MY perception, which is likely to change. . .

  4. Right On Jerry!Binnys in Mchenry is hosting a complete tasting with wines under the stelvin closure this Saturday March 5th! Keep up the good Fight! Is there such a term as WINE FREAKS. I think we would fit into that catagory!

  5. Well I live in the real world… The one that is constantly evolving and growing and looking for reasonable answers to these timely questions.I have had many a bottle both cork and screw and I agree the wine is the focus not the production of it being opened and served. Although it does lose a little of the romance and spectacle with the metal clicking sound it makes at you release the cap.But that momentary embarrassment evaporates as you drink the lovely nectar encased inside and the bottle top becomes a convenience when you by chance do not finish the bottle. So let the minds open with their lips and let the quality of the wine push them from their stagnant short sighted understanding of todays wine.

  6. Well stated. As much as I agree, I will still miss corks. Though, I will not miss corked wines. I can only think of few worse feelings than the loss of a bottle you have been aging for years that turns out corked. But, such is life.

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