How long before the practice of using a cork to seal a wine bottle is consigned to history? It may not happen in 5 years or even 10, but corks are on their way out. In a tasting I ran recently, 5 wines out of 6 were under screwcap. And it’s not only the cheapest bottles that no longer need a corkscrew – these 5 were all good quality wines around £8 – £10. Nor is the trend restricted to the New World; producers in some of the most traditional Appellations of France are also switching: I’ve opened a Chablis and a Crozes-Hermitage recently – both had screwcaps.
For more than 200 years, the cork has been the most commonly used method of sealing a wine bottle. Provided it’s kept moist (which is why bottles should be stored on their side), the cork swells to fill the neck of the bottle, keeping the wine in and the air out. Job done! Except that, occasionally, a cork will become tainted by a naturally occurring fungus, TCA, which affects the wine giving it that nasty, musty aroma and flavour that we call ‘corked’.
Numerous attempts have been made to deal with the problem – and with some success; I certainly find fewer corked bottles now than, say, 10 years ago, but it clearly hasn’t been eliminated altogether. So it’s not surprising that producers have turned to other ways of closing their bottles, the most common being the screwcap.
So, do screwcaps work? In practical terms, the answer is ‘yes’. Trials show that they generally perform well and can even keep wine fresh and in good condition for up to 30 years.
But, if corks do disappear from the wine scene, as I’m sure they will, I guess I won’t be alone in missing that feeling of expectation when I hear the sound of a cork being drawn from a bottle. The turn of a screwcap just isn’t the same!