Unscrewed

May 17, 2007

OK, here’s the deal. I spoke with Erik (the winemaker at Clos du Bois who is dear enough to answer all my questions) to find out what, if any, technical differences there are between corks and screwcaps and the pros and cons of the cap. Here’s what I found out:

  • Pro — A pure metal screwcap basically hermetically seals the bottle, which is great for wines that are meant to be drunk right away — like sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and other light whites.
  • Con — Read above. Some wines, typically bigger whites (like chardonnay) and most reds, need to “breathe” a bit and can become reductive (i.e., smell like a rotten egg) if sealed off from oxygen completely. Apparently this can be compensated for during the winemaking process . . . but it’s a fairly controversial. [See Screwcaps and Reduction in Wine by Jancis Robinson for a much more in-depth discussion.]
  • Pro — Screwcaps make it incredibly easy to open the wine and, when you don’t finish the bottle, seal it up to keep it as long as you want (almost). This makes screwcap bottles perfect for picnics and every night wines.
  • Con — Again, read above. Erik verified that a lot of the debate between corks and screwcaps comes down to people’s preference. There’s no doubt that twisting off a metal cap diminishes the “event” of opening a bottle of wine.
  • Pro — Screwcaps extend the shelf-life of the wine. (For why, see the first Pro above).
  • Con — Wines take longer to develop without air which, when it’s a wine that is meant to develop, is not necessarily a good thing—it’s like stunting the wine’s potential, if you will. Granted, some screwcaps come with a sort of Saran Wrap coating in order to allow some breathing, but even these will cause the wine to age differently and at a different rate than with a cork.

Where I weigh in: Since so much of the screwcap question has to do with the relationship between oxygen and wine over time, I’m inclined to stick with corks for the wines I want to keep for more than a year or so—at least until more research and long-term observation has been done. But . . . I have to agree with Christopher below (he’s my husband — don’t worry, I won’t be as smart-assy to other people’s comments as I am to his ;-)), that for a light, summery white or rose, I’m fine with a quick twist of the wrist.

Would still love to hear how glued others are to corks (funny visual, isn’t it). Maybe I could work out a little survey . . . hmmm . . .

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2 Responses to “Unscrewed”

  1. Jason Says:

    Lia-
    I’m with you on the screwcaps; love it for the ready to drink wines, but still having a hard time giving up that extra drop of theatrics to the pull of a cork at the table on a special bottle I’ve been saving. Thanks for validating my schizophrenia too!

  2. lia Says:

    Isn’t it funny how often it comes down to finding that balance between tradition and innovation? If we’re too rooted in the past, we’re not living in the reality of the world as it is today. If we’re too focused on the “new,” we become uprooted from the culture that has shaped us.

    I know, I’m having deep thoughts around screwcaps. But, seriously, I think we’re all a bit schizophrenic in this way . . . you’re not alone Jason! 😉


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