Category Archives: Screwcap versus Cork

Apr 04 2012

Cork versus Screwcap: Penfolds re-ignites the debate!

Posted on April 04, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

On the Cellarit Facebook page, I noted that Huon Hooke reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that Penfolds will now give people a choice of cork or screwcap. According to Penfolds’ chief winemaker, Peter Gago, “cork is a barometer of care.” It’s a better indicator of bad handling, heat damage or poor storage conditions, because the cork will leak or, if affected by heat, slightly push up into the seal. (Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 2012)

David Hawkins of One Aussie Wines responded to my Facebook post with the following comment: “Peter Gago may be correct, but I’ve had plenty of wines with corks that were up or down and the wine was fine…unfortunately TCA doesn’t offer any clues and that’s a more relevant fault for most people. I’ve also had heat affected bottles where there was no leakage or cork movement.”

Penfolds’ move is certainly sparking a fair bit of controversy. Hooke followed up on his article in the Herald with a post on his website. He noted that for Penfolds one of the key factors behind the move back to cork is increasing exports to markets like China where expertise on how to store, transport and properly care for wine is still developing.

But whether reverting back to cork is the best answer to gauge whether a wine has been heat damaged is debatable. Ian Riggs, chief winemaker at Brokenwood, was just as skeptical as David about whether cork was a better barometer of care than screwcap. He told Hooke:

Why don’t they just admit that they have buckled to the demands of their export markets and gone back to cork? To state that it is a way of showing up badly stored wine reeks of April Fool’s Day. So now, wine from all over Read the rest

Oct 10 2011

Cork versus Screw Cap: Don’t Dismiss the Benefits of Cork!

Posted on October 10, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

At the NZ Wine Online tasting of New Zealand wines by Escarpment and Quartz Reef at Coast on Wednesday night I sat next to a gentlemen who was absolutely livid that one of the wines had a cork closure. The wine in question was the Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir 2009 ($74.95), the second most expensive wine of the evening, and Escarpment’s top cuvee. (See Masterclass with New Zealand’s Escarpment and Quartz Reef, Cellarit Wine Blog, 1 October 2011)

Curious why Escarpment’s winemaker Larry McKenna was still sticking with cork in face of what looks like growing consumer resistance, at least in Australia and New Zealand, I asked Larry to explain his reasoning. He believes that for top flight wines, which require bottle ageing to properly evolve, cork is better than screw cap, as it allows the wine to breathe more.

When I got home the latest issue of Decanter was waiting for me on my IPad. Coincidentally, it included an interview with Giaconda’s acclaimed winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner, who told Decanter’s Andrew Jefford that he was unimpressed with what he considers Australian writers’ lack of objectivity about closures.

Like Larry McKenna, Kinzbrunner uses both cork and screw cap, and likes both for different wines. He was appalled by the response of one writer upon hearing that Giaconda’s nebbiolo is sealed under cork: “Now surely if there’s one wine that needs cork, it’s nebbiolo. The vitriol I got after that! ‘No, I’m not interested in your wine if you seal it with a stupid piece of bark.’ There’s this insane preference for screw caps in Australia; and I don’t think it’s objective.” (The Decanter Interview: Rick Kinzbrunner by Andrew Jefford, Decanter November 2011)

In Australia, Kinzbrunner is not exactly a lone ranger among fine winemakers when it comes to maintaining a … Read the rest

Aug 08 2011

Wine Education: The benefits of the Screwcap Closure

Posted on August 08, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

When I was researching my post on Australian aged rieslings, Buy Wine Ideas: Australian Aged Reislings: Beautiful Expressions of Terroir 28 July 2011, I came across a very good explanation about the merits of bottling wine under screwcap on the Pewsey Vale website.

James Halliday notes that Pewsey Vale was the first winery to bottle its riesling under Stelvin screwcap in 1977. Unfortunately the screwcap was not well received by the public and the initiative was put on ice for almost 20 years. Now, of course, use of the screwcap in Australia, especially for white wines, is considered best practice!

Below is a description of the benefits of the screwcap with respect to Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling, one of Australia’s best rieslings, which is only released after five years of bottle age. It is made by Yalumba’s Chief Winemaker, the multi-award winning Louisa Rose. According to Halliday, “Pewsey Vale never lost faith in the technical advantages of the closure. A quick taste (or better, a share of a bottle) of five-to-seven year-old Contours Riesling will tell you why.” (James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion 2011 Edition).

Sealing a bottle under a screw cap removes the variability and taints associated with cork. A screw cap also ensures that the wine in the bottle will age under the best possible conditions. The perfect seal of the screw cap ensures that no air or oxygen can enter the bottle. In these reductive conditions the wine undergoes “pure bottle aging” where the fresh citrus flavours remain, and are overlaid with flavours of toast, lemon grass and eventually some honey and possibly marmalade. Since there is no oxygen getting in to the bottle, there is no oxidising or “drying out” of the wine. This means that the colour, while it will deepen into Read the rest

Sep 09 2010

Screwcap versus Cork? Assessing the Pros and Cons

Posted on September 09, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Adam Lechmere, editor of decanter.com, recently reported that the cork industry has secured the endorsement of Prince Charles for a new campaign called ‘I Love Natural Cork’, Vine Talk: Campaign promotes wine corks over screwcaps, Reuters, 7 September 2010.

The cork industry’s public relations material is designed to appeal to our sense of tradition and ‘green’ conscience: “Natural cork in your wine bottle does more than just preserve and improve the quality and character of your wine. It preserves a centuries-long way of life in the rural communities of the Mediterranean cork oak forests, its incredible wildlife as well as the planet by absorbing CO2.”

The decline in cork’s popularity as the preferred wine stopper is certainly a serious cause of concern for the cork industry, and especially for Portugal, which makes 85 per cent of the natural closures – a figure that accounts for approximately 3 per cent of its GDP. As Lechmere notes, 10 years ago 95 per cent of bottles had cork closures. Last year, natural cork accounted for 69 per cent of the 18 billion wine closures sold.

But leaving aside for the moment the merits of the preserving centuries of tradition and stopping global warming, is cork still the best closure for preserving and improving the quality of wine?

Wine connoisseurs are now starting to sample bottles with screwcap closures that have been cellared for almost a decade.

Campbell Mattinson, wine critic and editor of The Wine Front, made the following observations in his January 24, 2008 review of a Howard Park Cabernet Merlot 2001:  “It’s hardly ‘news’ but I was delighted to enjoy a bottle of 2001 Howard Park Cabernet Merlot last week – sealed under screwcap. This was my favourite red wine of the 2001 West Australian vintage and

Read the rest