Most wine enthusiasts enjoy the ritual of opening a bottle. Trimming the capsule, making sure the tip of the worm is properly placed and slowly turning as the corkscrew embeds itself. Then, carefully using leverage to see the cork rise bit by bit from the bottle neck and ending in a gentle pop. It’s a ceremony long associated with romance and seduction.
But lovers of great wine meant to be aged also know the agony of cellaring a wine only to find the cork is compromised with the dreaded TCA (trichloroanisole), which imparts offensive mustiness like a wet newspaper, or the degradation of a cork that crumbles upon extraction. Usually, if you’ve bought a case of your favorite wine (or even a few bottles), there’s maddening bottle variation. Some wines soar, while other bottles from the same vintage might disappoint.
Enter the Stelvin closure, commonly called the screw cap.
Screw caps used to carry a stigma; surely wine inside a bottle without a cork is inferior. PlumpJack, a luxury boutique cult winery, decided in 2000 to bottle half its $135 1997 reserve cabernet in screw caps to compare. The Napa Valley winery found these wines age about 5 percent slower, with a slightly more fruit-driven aromatic influence than with cork. But screw cap closures capture what winemakers put in the bottle.
About the same time, a groundswell in Australia’s Clare Valley led to 14 riesling estates switching to screw caps. Now, 90 percent of New Zealand’s wine, and more than half of Australian wine, are sealed with a screw enclosure.
White wines are more delicate and pick up flavors of the cork more quickly, so Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru now releases its flagship wine, Reserve de l’Obedience, only in screw cap. The revolution is taking hold.
Some insist that Old World-style wines need that leisurely ingress of oxygen you get through cork for wines to evolve correctly; corks allow the wine to be more aromatically evolved. Nonetheless, certain producers aren’t bothered by the prospect of slower maturation. Michael Beaulac, winemaker for Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa’s Stags Leap District, notes: “If you take out a 15-year-old cab and it tastes like a 10-year-old cab, I don’t see that as a problem.”
And, since screw caps don’t require a moist cork, you can store them upright or facing any way you wish. Your main goal is to avoid light, vibration and temperature fluctuation, which are still a wine’s enemies. However, you know your wine will remain fresh. You have nothing to fear as the industry gradually moves away from the cork that may one day become a relic of the past. Remember rotary phones? How about typewriters or black-and-white TV? Miss them?
The good news is, as we wait for a final resolution, you don’t need to recoil at the idea of screw caps. You might follow the lead of proponents who encourage adoption of the Champagne ritual — hold the top firmly and turn the bottle. Then, judge the wine by the impeccable vino that’s undoubtedly swirling untainted in your glass.