Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Corks or Screwcaps

One of the regular debates in today's world of wine is the type of closure used for a wine bottle. Air and oxygen are wine's enemy until the time comes to open the bottle.

For centuries closures made from the bark of cork oak trees have been used to seal bottles of wine. These corks do a pretty good job of keeping the air out. Unfortunately, they can carry a chemical called TCA for short (trichloroanisole) which can impart an rather unpleasant odor to the wine that masks the flavor. This is commonly called cork taint. Estimates are that between 3 and 10% of all bottles of wine are corked.

In small doses, only the most discerning noses will identify the TCA. However, when present in larger amounts the wine will have an odor of wet cardboard or wet dog. Neither is a characteristic most drinkers look for in their wine.

Synthetic corks have been used for many years, but many find them problematic. They may not fit tightly enough against the glass to prevent small amounts of oxygen from entering the bottles. Some find them hard to remove. However, they are cheaper than natural corks. For inexpensive wines that are not meant to be aged, there should not be problems when synthetic corks are used.

More recently, screwcaps have been used to seal wines at all prices. Nearly all Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand and Gruner Veltliners from Austria are sealed with screwcaps. They do a great job of keeping the oxygen out of the bottle -- better than corks -- and carry no risk of transmitting TCA. However, they do carry the stigma of being associated with cheap, jug wines. Some critics feel they impart an unpleasant sulfur odor to some wines. Others contend they seal out the oxygen so completely that aging is inhibited.

If you want to test out the aging theory, Plumpjack Winery sells its excellent Cabernet Sauvignon in a two-pack. One bottle is sealed with cork and the other with a screwcap. You can then cellar both bottles and come back a few years later to see if there is any difference.

One final note on corks. When you are at a restaurant and the waiter lays down the cork, you may wonder what to do with it. You may smell it to see if your wine is corked, but this is no guarantee. There may be TCA in the cork, but not in the wine. So when the waiter has you taste the wine check for the taint of TCA. If you think the wine is corked, politely ask the waiter for his opinion. Restaurants get refunds from their distributors on corked bottles, so there should be no problem in sending back a bad bottle. Just remember that a bottle of wine that is not to your taste is not a bad bottle of wine. We all have different palates.

If you want to take a private, wine country tour that includes visits to Plumpjack and other fine wineries that use screwcaps, make a reservation by calling (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mailing by clicking here.

1 comment:

winemaker said...

For some great information on corks see Feeling Corky. Check out the cork board photograph! It is pretty cool.