The Sommelier Update is an educational blog on wine, beer, spirits and food. It started in conjunction with the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiast club, but has rapidly gained an international following from those interested in learning, enjoying and having fun with food and wine. Weekly articles on advice, service, pairing ideas, recipes, education and consultation, from a Certified Sommelier and wine educator.
Last week we took a look at the traditional wine stopper: cork. With the onset of cork taint, winemakers have been trying to find a way to preserve, and seal their wine bottles. We’ve seen box wines, which are basically bags of wine, affixed with a pour spout and inserted in cardboard boxes. We’ve seen metal, glass and plastic enter the market. In today’s blog, we look at screwcap wine stoppers.
I must admit that I was one of those wine consumers who had a tough time adjusting to a screwcap (also known as a Stelvin closure) crowning the top of my wine bottle. But, if you wanted to buy Australian or New Zealand wine, your choices were limited. Sure, I could pay a small fortune for Penfolds Le Grange, and still get a cork, but that wasn’t the point in trying these new world wines. What was my problem with the screwcap? It took the “romance” out of opening a bottle of wine. I like to hear the pop of the cork. I like using my corkscrew. I like collecting corks from those wines I have enjoyed.
Screwcaps have actually been around since the 1960’s, and were originally associated with cheap, skid-row wines. Remember Thunderbird? They grew in popularity when Australian winemakers were searching for a new closure that would protect their wines from cork taint, and oxidation. Australian wines were known for their fresh, fruit forward wines, and any oxygen transfer (which might occur with cork) would diminish what the winemaker was attempting to present.
Screwcaps are made of metal, typically aluminum. The metal cap is made to look like the traditional foil, or capsule, found on cork enclosed bottles. Inside the metal screwcap, is a liner of plastic, which, when tightened down, seal the wine in the bottle.
4 Head capper for Stelvin Wine Caps
So, beyond the cork taint issue we have already discussed, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the screwcap? Obviously, they are easier to open. When you are without a corkscrew, you don’t have to get creative (yes, I’ve seen the Youtube video of the guy opening a bottle with his shoe). However, there are concerns about long-term aging. Since there is limited, or no air exchange, the wine in the bottle may not age properly, and might even develop off aromas and flavors. This is nothing to worry about if you have a wine that is meant to be consumed early (usually fruit-forward, fresh wines)… and screwcaps have that "cheap" image to overcome.
Sommeliers have an entire “protocol” to attend to when opening a bottle of wine, but when it comes to screwcaps, that is all thrown out the door. I’ve heard (not actually tried) a new approach to opening a bottle with a screwcap: grip the bottom of the screwcap, and crack the seal, then, starting on your upper arm, roll the top of the screwcap/bottle down your arm where the top of the cap will then end up in the palm of your hand. You may want to practice this with a non-white long sleeve shirt a few times, before attempting in front of your friends.
What are your thoughts on screwcaps? Next week, we’ll take a look at glass, synthetic stoppers, and come to some possible conclusions about what is best.