Screw Cap Education

by Scott Greenberg, August 31, 2011, The Examiner

Our neighbor recently invited my wife and I over for dinner. Naturally, I brought along a bottle of wine to open and enjoy with dinner. Not knowing exactly what our host preferred, I played it safe and brought a versatile white wine that's usually a crowd pleaser.

As soon as we arrived, I handed the wine to Bob with a touch of ceremony and was shocked when a look of what can only be described as disgust spread across his face. I had to know what was behind his obvious contempt. I was relieved, yet somewhat annoyed, by his response.

"Well," he replied, "I thought that you were a knowledgeable wine guy who was going to bring some fancy wine to dinner. I'm just a little surprised that you brought a wine with a screw cap."

Fortunately, Bob was more interested in learning than debating, so I took the opportunity to explain why I thought screw caps were not only a legitimate bottle closure alternative to cork, but also why they were preferable in certain situations. While cork has been the front-runner for keeping wine in bottles for centuries, it is not without some drawbacks.

First and foremost is "cork taint," or 2,4,6 trichloroanisole (TCA), which happens when naturally occurring fungi in the cork comes into contact with chlorophenol compounds, such as the bleach used to clean corks. TCA imparts a musty, dank, wet cardboard character to wine, literally masking all other aromas and flavors. While cork producers have reduced the frequency of tainted corks, wine industry research indicates that 3 to 5 percent of all wines sealed with a cork are affected to some degree by TCA contamination.

Second is a phenomenon known as "flavor scalping," where the cork absorbs flavors from the wine. In addition, the porous nature of corks allows a miniscule exchange of air in and out of the bottle, which, in excess, can lead to premature oxidation of the wine.

Lastly, screw caps require no special tools to open, and can be easily resealed. However, screw caps aren't perfect. Because they are not porous, wines sealed with a screw cap do not age as well -- if at all -- the way wines sealed with corks do. In rare cases, screw caps can impart a burnt or rubberized flavor to the wine due to faulty process.

By the end of my lecture, Bob seemed to be appeased, but just to be safe, I decided to let the wine win as we raised our glasses and toasted to twist-offs. Retail prices are approximate.

The wine that I brought over for dinner was the 2009 Caymus Conundrum White Wine Blend from California ($20). This intriguing blend of chardonnay, semillon, muscat canelli, viognier and sauvignon blanc grapes are sourced from various vineyards throughout California and is a great value. It features aromas of honeysuckle, peaches and apricot and mouth-filling flavors of melon, pear and creamy vanilla. Citrus notes sneak in on the crisp, dry finish.

The 2009 d'Arenberg The Stump Jump ($12) is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre from McLaren Vale may be one of the best red wine values coming out of Australia today. This line-up of three muscular grapes possesses a huge nose full of blueberries and blackberries. On the palate, it delivers a lush yet balanced mouthful of black fruit flavors and spices that pair perfectly with robust meals like chili or lamb stew.

You know that screw caps are here to stay when one of the most well known wine houses in France is using them, as evidenced by the 2009 Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Rouge ($10), from the Rhone Valley. The nose displays lovely aromas of berry fruit and earthy spices that are repeated on the full, deep palate. The medium-length finish has solid support from soft tannins and notes of tobacco.

Click here for the original article in The Washington Examiner.

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