Wines & Vines Home
   
 
Welcome Guest
LOGIN |  CREATE ACCOUNT
 
 

Viewpoint

 

A Wager About Corks Vs. Screwcaps

October 2012
 
by Dan Berger
 
 
The number most closely related to cork closures for wine bottles is three. Natural corks can taint a wine with TCA, and for most consumers it’s apparent (when measured in parts per trillion) at 3 ppm. At the wine competitions I coordinate, the percentage of TCA-tainted wines in cork-sealed bottles is also about three. At my company Riverside International, some 20,000 bottles were opened during the past decade, and we calculated that 3% were corked.

The cork industry has spent a lot of time and money countering these claims (see “Closures War at a Standstill?” in the August 2012 issue of Wines & Vines) in hopes of holding back the rising tide of synthetic closures and screwcaps. And to be sure, all of today’s alternative closures have their Achilles’ heels, most of which have been well documented (or alleged), mainly by proponents of one stripe or another.

But the main reason winemakers say they’re concerned about TCA-related problems goes beyond the likelihood that one bottle in every three cases will be tainted. Not all consumers are knowledgeable enough about wine to identify TCA’s moldy, wet cardboard-y aroma at 3 ppm. They’ll overlook the cork and instead blame the winery when they find that a wine is “off.”

Some expert tasters can detect TCA in trace amounts so small it’s probably in a concentration far less than 3 ppm. Phrases like “possibly corked” are frequently heard from professional wine judges. Re-tastes of second bottles usually prove something was wrong. One theory: It might have been TCA taint at below the 3 ppm threshold. In that case, could cork taint at those levels be as much as 9%-10%?

Random oxidation
To conclude that cork is at fault is a leap of anti-faith in natural cork, which has a long if not always proud history of closing wine bottles. Indeed, random oxidation in wine occasionally has been accused of being cork taint, even when it has nothing to do with the cork.

If a bottle is manufactured improperly and the neck tolerances are faulty, corks may not properly seal, allowing oxygen to reach the wine. Though this has nothing to do with TCA, some amateur tasters will make that assumption, and the cork producer will be tarred with an unlikely brush—improperly made bottles. In such cases, an entire batch of wine could be scarred.

Also, random oxidation could come from a simply ratty cork. Cork, a natural product, is subject to variations; a creased cork can allow air in, creating oxidation.

What do you get when the bottling line is old or works inefficiently in removing the oxygen from the headspace in a bottleneck? What if the bottling line fails to add the right amount of inert gas? The result: Air gets into the headspace, and the wine begins to oxidize more rapidly than it should. Again, this has nothing to do with corks.

Screwcaps appear to be a solution to TCA infection. Since much of Australia and almost all of New Zealand have switched over to caps, we’ve seen almost no wine bottles infected for TCA.

Mistaken smells
Of course, non-professionals can cause havoc here if they mistake the “skunky” smell in screwcapped wine with TCA. That skunky aroma is likely reduction caused by a “bad” bottle. Screwcaps show up most on early-drinking wines, most of which are white. A large percentage of such bottles are clear (flint) and have no ultra-violet protectant in the glass. Such wines can get reduced if hit by direct light.

This “lightstruck” character has nothing to do with TCA, but again non-professionals can create headaches here.

How are screwcaps doing? Rather well. After an initial period when restaurant wine service personnel were opposed to them (they supposedly eliminated the ritual opening of the bottle and the ritual taste pour), most have embraced screwcaps since they have all but eliminated accusations that a wine is corked when, in fact, it was not.

I’m certain I’ll never see a First Growth Bordeaux with a screwcap, but one of Australia’s greatest red wines, the superb Shiraz Giaconda from winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner, sells for about $70 per bottle with a choice of either cork- or screwcap-sealed bottles.

As years go by, the screwcap will either be proved to have great value in dealing with TCA or be seen as a false solution. I’m betting on the former.

Dan Berger has been a wine columnist since 1976. Currently he issues weekly wine commentary, Dan Berger’s Vintage Experiences, and a nationally syndicated wine column. He also coordinates the Riverside International Wine Competition.

 
SHARE »
Close
 
Currently no comments posted for this article.
 
 
SEE OTHER EDITIONS OF THIS COLUMN ï¿½ CURRENT COLUMN ARTICLES »


 
Wines & Vines Home
 
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
info@winesandvines.com
Wine Industry Metrics
 
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
March 2013 $546 million
5%
$6,988 million
7%
March 2014 $572 million $7,451 million
     
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
March 2013 $177 million
20%
$1,483 million
10%
March 2014 $213 million $1,634 million
     
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
March 2013 253
15%
166
27%
March 2014 292 210
     
 
MORE » Released on 04.14.2014
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wines & Vines
Packaging Conference
 
Learn More »
 
 

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
 
Search the PWV archive »
 
 

Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
2014
 
Download full report »
 
 

CALENDAR
  • April 23-26
     
    CABs of Distinction in Paso Robles
     
  • April 26
     
    Siera Pelona Valley wine festival
     
  • April 27
     
    TAPAS Grand Tasting
     
  • April 29
     
    Rendez-Vous Laffort
     
  • MORE »
 

READER COMMENTS
 
Article: Starbucks Expands Wine Sales to More Cities »
 
Pretty amazing that the 1st wines chosen are from Argentina, Italy, and New Zealand! I...
Reader: Jacques Brix
 
Article: Starbucks Expands Wine Sales to More Cities »
 
Given Starbucks commitment to sustainability and global responsibility, I expect this move could be a...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: What to Do About Red Blotch »
 
There is NO correlation with planting density. Also FPS is working on the problem. New...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Premiere Wine Auction Nets $5.9 million »
 
Thanks for letting us know Janet, we've updated the story. Cheers
Reader: Andrew Adams
 
Article: Will Barrels Go the Way of Floppy Disks? »
 
Fun piece. Particularly enjoyed the three clearly superior attributes of standard barrels, including looking cool...
Reader: Tom Gable
 
 


Directory/Buyer's Guide — Your Wine Industry Marketplace
 
 
WINERY SEARCH
 
 
Advanced Search »
SUPPLIER SEARCH
   by Product
 by Company Name or Brand
 
Browse by Category »
2014 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
 
 
EXPANDED ONLINE SEARCH INCLUDED WITH PURCHASE
 
ORDER NOW »
 
LEARN MORE »
 
 
Wines & Vines Magazine
 
 
LEARN MORE »
 
SUBSCRIBE »
 
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
 
LEARN MORE »
 
ORDER NOW »
 
 
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
 
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
 
FREE LIVE DEMO »
 
VIEW VIDEO »
 
 
 
 
Latest Job Listings
 Wholesale Customer Ser...
 Sonoma, CA
General Administration and
 Financial Accountant &...
 St. Helena, CA
Finance
 Sales Representative
 San Francisco/East Bay, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Seasonal Skilled Cella...
 Healdsburg, CA
Winemaking and Production
 Tasting Room Associate
 Healdsburg, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Tasting Room Associate
 Healdsburg, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Server
 Healdsburg, CA
Winemaking and Production
 Busser
 Healdsburg, CA
General Administration and
 Host
 Healdsburg, CA
General Administration and
 Associate Marketing Ma...
 Napa, CA
Sales and Marketing
 
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:
 
 





Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
 
 
Copyright © 2001-2014 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.