Are Corks Screwed?
Unless you're particularly unattentive, you've noticed that more and more wines are being closed under screw cap, or Stelvin as they're known by brand name in the industry. Does that mean corks and corkscrews are fast becoming as antiquated as land-lines and home phones in a cellular world? I'd venture to say no, but change is definitely in the bottling lines around the world.
No where is this more evident than in the wine from Australia and New Zealand, where the switch to Stelvin was undertaken in the late 90's and has rolled on with all the forward momentum of a fully loaded steam train hitting a downhill section of the line. Antipodean winemakers are rather forthright in their support of screw caps thanks to shotty and snotty corks that gave their beloved creations the dreaded wet cardboard stench associated with that naughty little infection, 2, 4, 6, Trichloranisole, or as it's more commonly used nomenclature, TCA. Take this little gem from the Chairman of the Internationational Screwcap Initiative, MW, and winemaker of Kumeu River (my absolute favorite New World Chardonnay!):
“At Kumeu River we were considering doing a proportion in screwcap and still having cork available for customers who wanted it. But then my brother Paul asked me if I was confident that the screwcap was significantly better. I said yes, and based on extensive tastings of aged Rieslings from Australia, I had no doubt that our wines would benefit over the long term as well. As a result, he decided to put everything under screwcap, and communicate with our customers that we are doing it because we knew that the wines would be better - and that has certainly proven to be the case.”
There you have it, but not so fast. Other winemakers prefer cork, even those from Australia, like the gifted Julian Castagna of Castagna wines, who uses a Diam Cork closure to seal his beauties. While not a "natural" cork, it is far from being a screw cap. Diam is a technical cork made from natural cork that is reduced to powder, washed in carbon dioxide process that removes all measurable levels of TCA and then reconstituted to make a cork like seal without the fear of TCA, yet with cork's alleged ability to age gracefully. This ageability is cork's number one draw card for wine makers crafting wines that are built to go the distance. That and corks are just plain sexy when compared to screw caps, and sexy always wins...right?
So, what are we, the imbibers and consumers left to think? I for one don't really care, as long as the wine I open is sound and drinking well. That said, I have attended blind tastings of wines with up to ten years of bottle age under both cork and Stelvin, from the same winemaker and vintage. The cork wines were preferred by all tasters. The problem is we had to open more of the wines under cork due to TCA taint found in several examples. Guess that's part of the why this old saying has so much relevance in aged wine, "there are no great old wines, just great bottles." In the end, it's up to the winemaker to choose how he or she wishes to preserve his or her creation, not the marketers, wine writers or critics. No one told Picasso what tools to use. They are the artists while we are the lucky recipients of their talents. Just hope for the best…and keep sipping.
Oh, and just in case you like propaganda, and we all do, here's a cheeky bit from the cork folks: Date Video
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