The screwcap revisited
A sign of the times: An online wine pal from Quebec reports that he recently traveled to neighboring Ontario to pick up his ration of the sought-after New Zealand Cloudy Bay 2003 Sauvignon Blanc ... and was "shocked and amazed" to find it packaged with a metal screwcap in place of the familiar cork.
"I sincerely hope that [quality screw caps] age as well as corks," he wrote, "as my '98 I opened up last month showed that these can age extraordinarily well."
Chances are that he needn't worry. As more wine producers switch from natural cork to quality screw caps, the overwhelming weight of evidence suggests that wines closed with modern metal caps may keep better than those packaged with traditional corks.
The primary reason for the industry and consumers moving away from natural cork is the demonstrated incidence of "cork taint," a fungal affliction that spoils a small but significant portion of commercial wines closed with "tree-bark cork."
But a secondary benefit is emerging as more producers move to alternative closures: Modern screw caps appear to be even more airtight than natural corks, minimizing deterioration due to oxygen in the bottle. (Indeed, some critics have objected to sulfury "reductive" aromas that sometimes occur in the absence of oxygen in screw-capped wines; but this is a short-term fault that goes away promptly after the wine encounters air.)
Just a few years ago, alternative wine closures were rare, but this is changing quickly. "Synthetic corks and metal screwcaps have made big inroads into the wine business," MSNBC correspondent John Bonne reported last autumn, "pushing market share for traditional corks below 50 percent, by some estimates."
While that 50 percent figure seems doubtful, alternatives are clearly here to stay, becoming all but dominant among mass-market wines and showing up even in high-end wines of quality ... like Cloudy Bay.
For a time, it appeared that synthetic "corks" made from plastic-type material would dominate the new era, with more than 1 billion of them sold annually, enough to stopper 9 percent of the 17 billion bottles that the world produces in an average year.
But in a surprising turn, metal screwcaps - long regarded as a symbol of rotgut wine - are catching up fast. New Zealand and Australia are leading the charge, but American producers are not far behind, and alternative closures are no longer unheard of even in the relatively conservative wine industries of Europe.
Just over two years ago, in May 2002, we invited wine lovers to gaze into the crystal ball and forecast whether, and when, screwcaps or synthetics might surpass natural cork. Today, believing that the marketplace has already changed significantly, we pose the same question again, asking your opinion about "the wine closure of the future."
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Bonny Doon 2002 "Il Circo" Rosso Piceno ($11.99)
Another wacky label from the funny folks at California's Bonny Doon, this one's in their "Il Circo" ("The Circus") series of modest Italian wines packaged primarily for U.S. consumption, and, like virtually all of Bonny Doon's current wine list, comes packaged with a sturdy Stelvin-brand metal screwcap. Very dark reddish-purple in color, it breathes plummy fruit, a whiff of black pepper, and a perceptible but acceptable hint of apple-cider vinegar. It's tart, almost sour on the first taste, but there's plenty of fresh and juicy black fruit behind the acidic tang. Black cherries and lemon-squirt acidity persist into the finish, leaving a hint of drying tannins on the tongue. Rustic and a bit rough, it's an old-fashioned "spaghetti wine" from Montepulciano, a long way from elegant but fun in its nostalgic evocation of old-style Italian-American eateries with red sauce, checkered tablecloths and plastic grapevines. U.S. importer: Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, Calif. (July 26, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: All right but a little too "purple" for a simple roast chicken; I should have saved it for spaghetti and meatballs with Italian-style "gravy."
VALUE: The local retail price of $12 (which matches the maker's suggested retail price) is pushing it a little - I'd feel better about this rough little red at a below-$10 price point.
WHEN TO DRINK: It won't improve with age, but the screwcap should hold it for years ... on its side or upright.
WEB LINK: For Bonny Doon's page on "Il Circo," see
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Bonny Doon's "Il Circo" line is reasonably available in U.S. wine shops and is also available online (in the U.S. where wine shipping is permitted by law), from the winery's online store,
The California Wine Club:
For nearly 15 years Bruce and Pam Boring of The California Wine Club have been exploring the dusty back roads of California's wine country. Their travels lead them to winemakers who are passionate about making limited quantity, great tasting wine. The California Wine Club is committed to only selecting wines from real-working, smaller family owned wineries. Members are guaranteed to never receive bulk, closeout or private label wine.
Each month includes two bottles of hand-selected, award-winning wine and a detailed 8-page newsletter, Uncorked. There are no joining fees and you can cancel anytime. Just $32.95 plus shipping. Members can choose to receive wine monthly, bi-monthly or even quarterly.
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy, with a strong focus on Port this past week:
Words About Port: The Ports of Niepoort
Words About Port: The making of port tongs
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Cork up, cork down? (July 30, 2004)
Potpourri with Patrick (July 28, 2004)
Wine without alcohol (July 26, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pesto (July 29, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Aug. 2, 2004