Quest for the Perfect Wine Closure (April 8, 2004)
When is the last time you turned up your nose after sniffing it in a
restaurant or at home? Anecdotal evidence suggests that one in twelve
wines is "corked" tainted by a contaminated cork
to some degree or other. When corks are bleached and washed, remnants
of chlorine can get trapped in the crevices of cork and interact with
the wine, creating a chemical called trichloroanisole. TCA, for short,
smells like a swampy basement and dulls the fruit flavour in the wine.
Many producers around the world are going over to screwtops to alleviate
the problem, but they're concerned about consumer reaction. Screwtops
have historically been used for low-end wines, and there's not much romance
in being handed a metal cap in a restaurant.
Currently, cork has about a 90% share of the wine market; screwcaps and
plastic seals account for 5%, but this category is growing, especially
in the New World, where Australia and New Zealand have been leading the
way. California winemaker Randal Grahm of Bonny Doon held a public memorial
service for cork (complete with coffin) and immediately began bottling
his entire production under screwcaps.
R.H. Phillips, the California winery owned by Vincor, has just announced
that in May they will be bottling 300,000 cases of the latest vintage
of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz
under screwcap. This represents $18 million in potential sales revenue
and is the largest commitment to screwcaps in the United States so far.
Another alternative closure is the glass stopper, which may be the future
closure of choice since it does not have the pejorative connotation of
the screwcap. Since the autumn of 2003, a large-scale experiment has been
underway involving 20 producers from France, Germany and Italy to test
consumer acceptance of wine bottles with glass stoppers.