What a hot issue this cork versus screw cap craziness is. This past weekend I was doing a tasting of some our French whites and one of them was enclosed with a screw cap, which sparked some interesting discussions about the stigma of such an idea and the question of age ability.

Upon being asked, “So what’s up with the screw cap thing?” I went into my usual explanation of how I understand it which is that winemakers are generally using the Stelvin (the big brand name in screw caps) enclosure for the wines in their line that do not require aging. They are saving their pennies for corking their age-worthy wines. Cork can be expensive and there is a buzz about the cork trees in Portugal heading down the road to the endangered species list. But then again the machine used to manufacture the screw cap is also very expensive and adds to the cost of the product.

The question that arose and inspired this post are screw caps good for aging wine. A customer who was part of the discussion mentioned that he had some great Australian Rieslings from the mid nineties that were aged under the Stelvin seal. Man did that throw me for a loop. I love when these things come up. This type of issue concerns wine geeks, wine “experts,” and casual wine consumers alike. I started doing some research and quickly became overwhelmed with all the talk out there about the future of wine bottle closures. The info is so crazy and diverse I decided to talk about the issue in three parts. Part one is a quick history on the screw cap. Where did it come from and how has it crept onto the global market. I am in wine geek heaven right now!

Screw cap enclosures have been a part of the wine world in small amounts as early as 1959. The French developed a prototype under the name Stelcap-vin. In 1970 Australian Consolidated Industries (ACI) bought the rights to the product and ran with it beginning the long road of experimentation. By 1979 it was widely agreed that the screw cap was the ideal closure alternative to cork with an exceptionally low rate of error in the wine. Alas the ACI didn’t feel the world was ready for this new kid in town after brief industries push for the now renamed Stelvin enclosure died almost before it began.

It wasn’t until 1996 when a prominent Australian wine maker at Penfolds released a red blend with the screw cap that this phenomenon gained some attention. And in 2000 a group of Southern Australian Clare Valley producers disgruntled with the susceptibility of cork banned together to release 250,000 bottles of their well-known Riesling under screw cap enclosures bought form a French Company. This grand initiative made some serious headlines and brought us closer to where we are today (there were also some bottling of this kind in 1997).

Later that same year a group of New Zealand winemakers inspired by the group effort of the Clare Valley producers decided it was time to take this amazing idea to a bigger stage. They formed the New Zealand Screw Cap Initiative. This idea has been growing ever since and as of 2006 New Zealand releases 70% of their wines under screw cap. I even found what I believe to be the New Zealand Screw Cap Initiative’s mission statement:

• To encourage and facilitate the use of screw cap wine seals by New Zealand wineries

• To undertake research into screw cap wine seals, for the benefit of the group’s member wineries

• To enable members to individually use and develop screw cap wine seals using the research developed by the group

• To provide a forum for facilitating the exchange of ideas, opinions and contributions regarding screw cap wine seals

• To identify and develop project methodologies, and best practice in use, promotion and education of screw cap wine seals

So this is a little crash course in how this became such a phenomenon. Next week I will be going into the age ability of wines under this enclosure. It is a deep issue with a lot of opinions and I can’t wait to throw down. Any questions or comments are appreciated. I would to get people’s thoughts on this craziness. In the meantime we have some really great screw cap wines art the shop. Cheers!

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Stacy Nelson on August 16, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Screw caps are wonderful – and yes the standard answer you gave to your friend is one I’ve repeated many times. However, I have noticed that there are an amazing amount of red wines coming on the market that are also utilizing this method of closure and even odder, they are from France!

    I did post an article about fine wines from Bordeaux now utilizing the screw cap here$calories_in_wine_tasting_blog/2008/07/09/calories_in_wine_screwtops

    I’m looking forward to your next two articles!


  2. Posted by roscoe on August 17, 2008 at 1:44 am

    Screw Caps are fabulous/handy/practical for chilled wines if you just can’t finish them in one sitting. (IMHO of course)


  3. Posted by Sistah K on August 27, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Interesting read-
    but why the screw cap
    and not more faux cork
    when looking to save trees?


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