Screw cap gains momentum
As recently as 1999, when I first touched on this topic in a Wine Advisor article, the synthetic (plastic) cork was a novelty, and the notion of putting metal screw caps or beer-style "crown caps" on quality wine was akin to science fiction.
What a difference a few years makes! Spurred by rapidly increasing consumer anger about fine wines spoiled by the musty "taint" that accompanies a significant percentage of tree-bark corks, the industry - particularly in Australia and New Zealand but also in the U.S. and to a lesser extent Europe - is moving with surprising speed toward the wider use of alternatives.
Over the last couple of years, screw caps - particularly the quality Stelvin brand (and a few competitors) whose heavy-duty closure looks a great deal like the foil or plastic "capsule" that shields the usual cork - appear to be overtaking synthetics as the alternative wine closure of choice for many producers.
Despite its bad image in the U.S. as the hallmark of cheap "brown-bag" wines, the screw cap has proved itself beyond any doubt for relatively short-term use on white wines; and scientific evidence is mounting that even hearty reds destined for cellaring will benefit from the screw cap's laboratory-sanitized cleanliness and airtight nature. (Indeed, one of the last remaining, if generally discredited, arguments against the quality screw cap is that it may admit less air into the bottle than cork, possibly resulting in ultra-slow bottle development or undesirable "reductive" aromas in the wine.)
The significant shift from cork to screw cap Down Under has become abundantly clear from recent entries in the Sydney International Wine Competition ("Top 1OO"), says my pal Warren Mason, the Competition's Director. "There was a big increase in their use amongst this year's samples, and their use is no longer restricted to unwooded whites or indeed whites," he said after the competition ended last week. "Their early appearance amongst the reds was noticeable."
Mason estimated a 150 percent increase in screw capped entries this year compared to last, while the year before that there were almost none. Although few screw capped entries came in from the rest of the world, he said New Zealand and Australia - particularly New Zealand - lead the way in adopting the screw cap as the closure of preference.
Specifically, he said, a survey of this year's entries found 30 to 40 percent of Rieslings, Traminers and Pinot Gris under screw cap, as well as 25 to 30 percent of Sauvignon Blancs and Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends, 15 to 20 percent of Chardonnays (predominantly unwooded), Viogniers and Semillons, 10 to 15 percent of Pinot Noirs and even a small but significant sample of 3 to 4 percent of Cabernet Sauvignons and 1 to 2 percent Shirazes entered in screw capped bottles.
Coincidentally, it was my impression as a judge, and Mason agrees, that a relatively small number of wines were rejected by the judges this year for being "corked," certainly well below the 5 percent "taint rate" that virtually all serious wine experts consider customary for tree-bark cork.
Among other intriguing screw-cap developments I spotted Down Under, the conventional wisdom that the cost of retooling bottling lines might be prohibitive for smaller producers is being challenged by the emergence of companies that bring portable Stelvin bottling lines around to wineries on a contract basis at bottling time.
Stelvin screw caps have become so commonplace that they no longer attract attention in Aussie or Kiwi restaurants or "cellar door" tasting rooms, although I note with some amusement that a simple "opening ritual" is evolving for the screw cap: Rather than roughly grabbing the twist-off end, the savvy wine waiter will grasp the sleeve of the capsule with one hand while giving the bottle a quick clockwise twist to crack the metal seam with a satisfying click. (Photo above.)
And finally, an odd observation that comes up with surprising frequency at Aussie restaurants these days: Leave an open screw capped bottle on the table for more than a few minutes, and someone - a diner or a server - will almost invariably screw the cap back on. Yet hardly anyone ever sticks a tree-bark cork back in the bottle. What's the difference? I have no idea, except perhaps that it's so easy to do.
For technical and marketing information on the Stelvin brand of screw caps (available in French and English), see
Finally, you're invited to visit the Sydney International Wine Competition Website (and subscribe to its E-letter) at
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And now, my tasting notes on two California wines of considerable value, both sold only in bottles sealed with Stelvin screw caps:
Bonny Doon 2002 "Ca' del Solo" California Big House Red ($9.99)
A whiff of volatile acidity at first blows off quickly to reveal ripe, plummy fruit and fragrant pepper in this inky dark-ruby wine. An everything-but-the-kitchen-sink blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignan, Barbera, Zinfandel, Malbec and Mourvedre grape varieties, it's warm and almost pruney on the palate, with just a touch of sweetness well-balanced by lemon-squirt acidity to give it structure. Quite "Mediterranean" in style, it would make an interesting ringer in a tasting flight of Languedoc reds. (Oct. 10, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Easy drinking and food-friendly with red meat or poultry; it made a fine match with a hearty chicken pilaf with cauliflower added to the usual rice.
VALUE: Fine value for $10.
WHEN TO DRINK: Enjoy now or hold for a year or two.
WEB LINK: All of Bonny Doon's wines including the Ca' del Solo bottlings are online at its jubilantly wacky Website,
Bonny Doon 2002 "Ca' del Solo" California Big House White ($9.99)
Pale straw color with a glint of gold. A wild array of grape varieties in a purportedly "Friulian" style (Riesling, Muscat, Chenin Blanc, French Colombard, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Marsanne) shows its diversity in a complex profile that mingles fragrant floral and white-fruit scents with a whiff of almond and a hint of mint, leading to a fresh mixed-citrus flavor, snappy and light, that gains richness and adds pleasant musky-melon and bitter-almond notes as the wine warms in the glass. (Oct. 11, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Versatile enough to go well with a wide range of poultry or seafood; it was a brilliant match with a Circassian chicken-and-walnut recipe fashioned as a pasta sauce.
VALUE: An interesting and well-made wine, very good value at this price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Made for immediate consumption, and its fruit will probably show best when it's fresh, but a year or two on the wine rack will do it no harm.
WEB LINK: The Big House White label shows a Website at
Berry Bros. & Rudd:
Berry Bros. & Rudd's website has an unbeatable range of fine wines available for delivery to most world destinations.
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Over 3,500 wines available including an extensive range of Bordeaux from the most prestigious Chateaux. We have extensive stocks from many of Burgundy's most prestigious domaines including Romanée-Conti, De Vogue, Armand Rousseau and Méo-Camuzet
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Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
Whether you consider this an intriguing part of the mystique of wine or just an irritating chore, one thing is certain: You'll need a special tool to get at the contents of a wine bottle stoppered with the traditional cork.
So what's your favorite? Simple waiter's model, pricey lever model, or your bare hands on a screw cap? This week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth picks up a recurring topic as we invite you to tell us about your favorite wine opener. Click to
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Their recent selection from Italy featured a beautiful '98 Chianti Reserva from Dioniso and a refreshing 2000 Rosso Salento from Rocca Mitico. This two-pack is still available for $68, including all shipping, handling and import charges.
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Bucko's Wine Reports: 100 new wines
Andy Abramson's Road Reports: Santa Barbara "Celebration of Harvest"
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
Now that I'm back from Australia and New Zealand, The 30 Second Wine Advisor returns to its regular schedule, with the weekly edition E-mailed on Mondays, and the daily edition distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (plus, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
The other New Zealand (Oct. 10, 2003) http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/tswa031010.phtml
The other Australia (Oct. 6, 2003) http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/tswa031006.phtml
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Monday, Oct. 13, 2003