To take it a step further and truly prove the screwcap was just as good as its cork rival, in 2000 a large group of winemakers in Australia’s Clare Valley, known for their Rieslings, sealed 250,000 bottles of said wine and let them age, checking them here and there. By 2006 the wines were aging wonderfully and showing indications that this new closure would also be ideal for storing and aging wines for long periods in bottle. This was an ambitious move that paid off. In 2001, New Zealand also began its screw cap initiative and, by the 2004 vintage, 70% of the country’s wine was released under Stelvin closures.
Flash forward to present day and the acceptance of the screw cap has taken hold in the last decade or so, prompting many winemakers around the world to completely do away with cork. The most well known winemaker is probably our country’s most innovative wine geek, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, who, in 2002, held a funeral for the cork in New York City and San Francisco, declaring the screw cap as his closure of choice.
Randall Grahm and Dirk Vermeersch at Grenache Days in 2010
But even though geeks are accepting the screw cap in droves, there’s still an on-going debate as to how dramatically a screw cap impacts how a wine ages – remember the Australian test only dealt with wine aged over a couple of years, not decades. The question is whether as a wine ages the evolution of the wine occurs because small amounts of oxygen are allowed to interact with it due to the small pores in a cork that let teeny tiny amounts of oxygen in – which couldn’t occur with a screw cap because it forms an airtight seal – or if the tiny amounts of oxygen have nothing to do with a wine’s evolution at all, because that evolution is caused by the wine interacting with itself.
For our purposes as consumers we should not fear the screw cap, since most of us aren’t concerned with aging wine for decades. In general, winemakers will use the screw cap enclosure for the everyday drinking wine within their line up, saving the cash flow for corks in their higher end bottles. There are some factors involved to switch to screw cap, including investing in new equipment or attachments, but overall the price of a screw cap is less than that of a cork, saving the winemaker money in the long-term. And don’t be turned off by the term “everyday wine” or “entry level.” A great winemaker will often offer wines at this level and price point to tease you into falling in love with them, thereby compelling you to indulge in their more focused wines down the road. It’s a win-win.
So go ahead and crack, not pop, that beautiful bottle of wine and enjoy! If you don’t like the sound and want your friends to to be impressed at a dinner party, just take a napkin fold it over the cap and twist. Or just own it with a satisfied CRACK and smile in the face of adversity!
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