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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cork v Screwcap---New Zealand Takes the Lead

We’ve all been there:  a special bottle of wine---ceremoniously opened for a special event.  BOOM!  The wine smells horrible with an unmistakable odor of mold.   The culprit is tricholoranisole, more commonly known as TCA.  In short, the wine is “corked.”   TCA is caused by defective corks and it is estimated that somewhere between 5-8% of wine has some degree of this cork taint.  New Zealand winemakers, however, have bucked a huge tradition by switching to screw-caps…even on their premium wines.

Screw-top enclosures have been used on food products since the 19th century, but they weren’t used for wine bottles until the 1950’s.  A few Australian wineries were among the early adopters, but the adventuresome New Zealand wine industry was the first to adopt screw-caps in masse.  Market-conscious American vintners are still testing the treacherous waters of public opinion.  The tradition-driven French are less receptive, as are most Europeans.

Is this resistance all about tradition?  Some of you might be thinking “No, it’s because the slow passage of oxygen through a porous cork allows the wine to age better!”  Others might be pondering that the metal of the screw-top could react with the wine and create problems.  Neither of these has been proven to be true.

Flying in the face of tradition, for the last 10 years the Kiwi’s have been leading the effort to convert to screw-caps.  Currently, over > 90% of New Zealand’s wines are made with metal enclosures.  The country has been on the cutting edge of debunking the myth that screw-caps are substandard.  There are plenty of studies now that offer ample evidence that spending money to seal wine with anything other than a metal cap is a significant risk.  New Zealand has also discredited the argument that screw-cap use is economically motivated as screw-cap equipment requires a significant financial investment.

As there is a lack of data on the ability of wine to age over decades with a metal cap, no one knows for sure what the long term effect of screw-tops will be.  Personally, I will gladly follow Chubby Checker’s  “Let’s do the twist!”

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