Epicure

A collection of my articles for this high end lifestyle magazine.

Issue 2 Early Summer 2019

As spring approaches many of us move away from the darker, fuller bodied wines that have kept us warm through the winter. With the switch from reds to whites and rosé, you may also feel yourself using your corkscrew less and less. The majority of these wines now come sealed with a screw cap instead.

The bottle closure may seem an indiscriminate means to an end, merely a way of preventing the air turning your wine to vinegar, and yet it can still be quite emotive to the purchaser. Are screw capped wines of a lesser quality than those sealed under cork and, more importantly, do they taste any different?

In its heyday the cork seal was a revolution to the wine industry, replacing the humble oil-soaked rag. Advances in glass production, making the bottles stronger and sturdier, met with the cork’s natural elasticity, expanding to create a tight seal in the neck of the bottle. This meant no leakage, and no air spoilage. Crucially, it meant that wine could now be stored for future consumption. It was, in essence, the birth of the wine cellar.

Cork did, however, have a flaw – a reaction to a spoiling chemical compound (2,4,6 – trichloroanisole, or TCA, for short) that sometimes survived the cleansing process needed to get the corks ready for use. These wines became known as ‘corked’, giving off damp and musky characteristics and generally tasting of wet cardboard. Although a bad batch of corks could spoil an entire bottling run of wine, due to their wide geographic distribution it seemed like a bad bottle could turn up anywhere, at any time. It was too hit and miss.

In tandem with the rise of these faulty wines was the birth of ‘New World’ wine. Countries such as Australia and New Zealand started joining the ‘Old World stalwarts of France, Spain and Italy, and producing wines full of pure, warm-climate juicy fruits. These clean wines magnified the off-characters of a corked wine, and a solution was immediately sought.

Free from the traditions of the Old World, there were no qualms about replacing the cork with the functional screw cap. The French viewed the cork as almost part of the packaging along with the bottle shape and label – it was originally a quality seal that the wine within had not been adulterated or watered down. Most noticeable with Champagne, the popping of the cork is almost ritualistic, the signpost of upcoming pleasure. The twisting and cracking of metal, they felt, did not have the same majesty.

Trials over the past two decades haven’t found any negatives with screw cap ageing, and in fact actually point to them keeping a wine fresher in youth. The majority of the fruity wines we’ll likely be drinking over the spring and summer months are meant for drinking within the next 1-3 years and so can be enjoyed in the knowledge that they taste as good as intended, and are free from any cork taint.

Production of screw caps is also cheaper and more environmentally friendly too. Even though corks are 100% recyclable they tend to go in the bin after use, whereas the screw cap, attached to the bottle that goes in to the recycling, therefore gets recycled too without any extra effort.

Cheers!