Monday, October 7, 2013

Cork or Screw Top

Looking for CLOSURE


Call me a traditionalist, but it just seams wrong, even cheap/sleazy to have a screw top on fine wine.

Oh, I can see the purpose or at least the ease of it. Screw tops are easy to open and close, with no additional equipment required. Admittedly, I have had some good wine from fine winemakers who have chosen screw top enclosures. This makes me wonder: Is my future is cork-free?
After long deliberation, I can appreciate the screw top closure for certain occasions. Nowadays, one cannot carry a corkscrew just anywhere, so the use of a screw top could be necessary under certain circumstances. Maybe it’s all in the name: “screw” top. That even sounds dirty and cheap (and not in a intriguing way). But am I just resisting inevitable change?

Let’s look into some alternative closures.
Wine consumers buy wine sealed with natural cork over any other closures. In the competitive wine industry, that may be enough right there to stick with the norm. I see I’m not the only one trying to be true to cork. Screw caps are often seen as industrial, cheap and lacking the romance of the old closure. But screw tops have been hailed as the future mostly because there is no danger they will spoil or taint the wine. This is a problem that is said to effect up to 1 in 10 corked bottles. Okay, very good point. I’m against tainted wine of any kind. This is the main reason why wineries choose to use other means of sealing their wine. Though I still find myself wanting natural cork, and really have issue with the synthetic cork environmentally, especially when made in an array of bright colors or tacky patterns, to me, it just seems…well, wrong.

It is interesting that in Spain, it is against the law to use anything but natural cork. The use of screw caps and synthetic closures is outlawed. We applaud them for being purists. But I’m still trying to be open-minded here. Again, my primary concern is the wine.

Traditional: Natural Wine Cork

Pros: Cork has a long history; it has been used as the sealing method of choice for over 400 years. Cork is a renewable resource (the trees are not killed when the bark is stripped to make cork). They’re readily biodegradable. And they support an entire industry of corkscrews and other cork-removal products. There’s a certain romance with cork and a familiarity of “that is the way it should be.” Personally, I find comfort in this tradition
Cons: Wine corks often go bad. Estimates vary depending on which figures you believe, as little as 1% or as much as 20% of all wine sold is “corked,” which is to say, damaged by a problematic cork. Wine corks can be difficult to remove, and sometimes break off into the bottle (I really hate that!). That should be reason enough to have me consider other options, as again, I really do care passionately about the wine inside.

Plastic: New Wine Cork
Pros: Plastic is immune to cork taint, so wine is much less likely to spoil. Depending on the vintner’s tastes, they’re recyclable. And the same cork-removal equipment can be used.
Cons: If not recycled, plastic corks also pose a more direct threat to the environment. The plastic may not retain its elasticity well over time, making it unsuitable for wines meant to age for decades, which is problematic. Again, bright neon or patterned synthetic corks really are just weird. Columbia Winery is an example of a Washington winery that has used some synthetic corks in some of their selected white wines. Some warn against cellared wines claiming that faux cork tends to oxidize after a few years.

Screw Caps
Pros: Screw caps, like plastic corks, avoid problems of cork taint. They are less expensive than natural or plastic corks. And they can be removed without any special equipment. Easy access is nice.
Cons: As with plastic corks, screw caps imply environmental issues associated with the loss of cork farming and sorry, but there’s no romance.
Screw caps are used by such fine Washington winemakers as, Houge Cellars, JM Cellars, Northwest Cellars, Syncline Wine Cellars, Dusted Valley Vintners. All produce fine wines with screw caps.
So, what’s your opinion? Where do you stand on this great debate? Hold your thoughts before you answer, because there’s one more thing to consider: glass!

Glass: An unexpected option
I think there is class in glass. Local Spokane winery, Overbluff Cellars has chosen glass enclosures for all their wines. Syncline Wine Cellars, located in the Columbia Gorge, uses both screw caps and glass stoppers, being cork-free for several years. Northwest Totem Cellars uses glass as well, sterilizing those returned and reusing them, which answers my initial environmental concern question.

Then there’s ZORK® STL Peel and Reseal Closure, yet another alternative wine closure that seals like a screw cap and pops like a cork. Interestingly, an inner metal foil provides an oxygen barrier similar to a screw cap, and an inner plunger creates the ‘pop’ on extraction and reseals after use. Boutique winery, Sapolil Cellars in Walla Walla exclusively uses Zork. Admittedly, it was fun to open.

Crown cap closures are used on a sparkling wine. The traditional crowned bottle cap has been used in the sparkling wine industry as a closure during the bottle fermentation process (m├ęthode traditionnelle). Normally, the cap is replaced with a cork before shipping, though recently some producers are releasing wines using the crown cap as their closure. The crown caps provide a tight seal without risking cork-taint. Although easier to open, crown caps eliminate part of the ceremony of opening a sparkling wine. No pop!

Regardless of how it is corked, the most important part comes when a bottle is opened, and magic ensues.

Laurie L. Ross is a freelance writer and the author of local wine blog, Sip of Spokane, www.sipofspokane.com

As published in Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living magazine October 2013

(Photo Credits: Crown Closure: Wikipedia, Zork: Zork international, Glass: Alcoa, Natural Cork: Fielldstone wine, Synthetic Cork: Vitner Views, Screw Cap: OR Live, Screw Cork: unknown
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