Is There an End to the Screwcap Debate?

W ine writers like myself have been commenting on the screwcap debate ever since the first slick, stylish wines from New Zealand bottled under Stelvin started to appear on our shelves nearly two decades ago. I remember thinking that the packaging was very stylish, and in spite of being a bit of a Francophile, I couldn’t wait to try them.

I was reminded of the debate recently reading an article on The Drinks Business website – a debate which is still going on, although there have been some interesting developments recently that are work remarking upon.

The reason so many producers turned to screwcaps in the first place, historically associated with low quality wines, was the issue of TCA – better known as cork taint. This bacteria, found on corks, is detectable to palates above a certain level, and it gives the wine unpleasant off-flavours and aromas (often described as ‘wet dog’ or ‘wet wool’). The problem is that it couldn’t be detected, and there were few reliable statistics for the proportion of wine affected by it – simply because many people would not recognise the off-flavours as cork taint, and assume instead they did not like the wine.

So… onto the interesting development. The cork producers have been developing a natural cork wherein the level of TCA would be non-detectable to the human palate, and they have succeeded. It’s hard to explain what an extraordinary breakthrough this is, although anyone that’s ever opened a fine bottle of aged Burgundy only to find it’s corked will probably be smiling at this point.

Of course, the debate doesn’t end there – the discussion has evolved over the years. Producers have proved that wines under Stelvin need not look cheap, and that they can command a decent price for them. The decision to move to Stelvin that many producer have made is not necessarily an easy one to reverse – it involves a change of bottles as well as closures. There are cost considerations – the science that allows us to have peace of mind that our corked bottles won’t be tainted doesn’t come cheap. And that’s before we’ve even addressed the complex carbon footprint considerations.

There might not be an end to the cork/screwcap debate, but thanks to the innovation of the cork producers, it’s a very different debate we are having, and it’s really exciting.

For a detailed analysis on wine closures, I recommend reading the full article on The Drinks Business website here – there’s more to it than you might think!