When screwcaps hit the market some years ago, wine aficionados may have looked askance. The cork has been such an integral way of sealing wine for centuries, that changing something so fundamental seemed strange to many. The question became: does it affect the wine inside.
According to industry experts, screwcaps are actually the superior way to bottle wine as they slow down the ageing process. Australian-based D’Arenberg’s Chester Osborn believes that it acts “like a really cold cellar”.
Slows down ageing
Osborn stores all 72 of the wines in his cellars, even the most expensive versions, with screwcap closures. He said: “We’re 100% screwcap now as we find Australian sommeliers don’t want Australian wines bottled under cork.”
After various experiments in storing wine, he found that the key to great wines is slowing down the ageing process. He said: “I want my wines to age as slowly as possible. “
Screwcaps achieve this as they let in no oxygen, which means the wines don’t oxidise. They also don’t add any copper to the wines.
What about consumers?
As screw-tops have been accepted by consumer much more over the last few years, there is very little market resistance to them. The Chinese market in particular has recently taken to them in a big way.
While consumers previously insisted on asking for a cork sealed wine, screwcaps are becoming less of an issue as people recognise that they affect the wine positively.
Chinese market growing
China is a rapidly growing market for many wine exporters, including Australia where year-on-year sales have leapt by 300%.
“Attitudes in China are changing towards screwcaps, they used to ask for cork but are more open minded to screwcaps now,” he said.
For example, in a normal year, Osborn makes 72 separate wines and always has two new ones under development. And while in that part of the world, the harvest hasn’t been as strong as last year’s, some grapes have done better than others. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Rhone whites are thriving, and the Grenache is the best since 2002.
However, as they have endured the wettest August ever in 2017, immediately followed by a very long, dry summer which led to a drought, some have been adversely affected.
In the UK, of course, this year’s long, hot summer means we’re likely looking at the largest and best vintage to date. And with the increasing prevalence and acceptance of screw-cap bottles, it’s likely that more and more winemakers will turn away from corks.
Regular wine drinkers are familiar with the experience of opening a corked bottle, and the tainted taste and odour. Corked wine means undrinkable wine, with an often unpleasantly mouldy flavour. Figures to show how many cork sealed bottles are tainted by being corked are difficult to nail down, but a study from 2007 showed as many as one in 10 may be affected.
It’s not surprising that since then, more winemakers around the world have decided to get rid of corks and choose a metal screw-cap opening. In the 1990s, corks sealed 95% of all wine bottles produced around the world. This fell to 62% in 2009 and in 2018 it’s much lower.