The Wine Curmudgeon loves screw caps. And screw tops. And Stelvin closures. Call it whatever you want -- just don't call it a cork.
I mention this not because screw caps are embattled, because they're not. The closures are accepted today as never before, whether it's a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a white Burgundy, or even a high-end Napa cabernet sauvignon. And almost every winemaker I interview who doesn't use screw caps wants to, citing their efficiency and reliability.
That's because screw tops prevent what's called cork taint, or corked wine: contamination from a chemical compound called TCA that can occur naturally in cork. TCA gives the wine a musty, wet dog, damp basement smell and taste, ruining it. Cork taint may affect 5 to 15 percent of all wines, from $2 rotgut to $100 Chateau Le Snooty.
Yet, regardless of all this, consumers continue to love their corks. One study found that wine drinkers, still, in the 21st century, see screw top wine as inferior to cork wine and won't pay as much for it. The Oregon State University study told consumers they were drinking wines with different closures, and the consumers claimed to notice a difference. Yet they were tasting the same wine each time.
I've seen this myself. I do wine tastings, and people still snigger when I mention screw tops. My wine classes are aghast that someone who is supposed to know about wine doesn't like corks.
But why should I? I have to use a cork screw to open a cork wine, which is a pain in the neck. All I need to open a screw top is my hand. In fact, the learned Josh Wesson of Best Cellars fame claims that one reason Americans drink so little wine is that it that half of the households in the U.S. don't own a cork screw. Which would make it impossible for them to open a bottle.
Does wine really need a cork? It depends on who you ask. Some experts claim that red wines age better with corks, since corks allow some air to get through to the wine. There are others who claim it makes no difference. My thought? We haven't let fine red wine age under a screw top, so who knows what will happen?
Or, as the eminent Jancis Robinson once wrote: "Thy utter darned ridiculousness as a 21st century stopper."