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wine lie #2: screw caps = cheap wine

I had a radio interview this morning on the NPR station in Kansas City and we talked a bit about screw caps, and why I love them. Below you’ll find the basics. This is an excerpt taken directly from chapter two of Hello, Wine, where I debunk a whole bunch of pervasive mistruths about the beverage we all adore.

little wine lie #2:

SCREW CAPS ARE FOR CHEAP WINE

Screw caps rock. I’m a big fan. The reason? There are many things that can cause a bottle of wine to go bad. Too much heat, too much light, bacteria, chemicals, and simply old age can turn the best wines down- right rotten. The thing that goes wrong most often is that the wine is “corked.” A corked wine has been contaminated with Trichloroanisole, or TCA, a funky, musty compound. TCA contamination, interestingly a by-product of the bleaching process most wineries undertake to keep things clean, is one of the biggest problems in wine, affecting as many as one in every twelve bottles.
Corked wine exists on a spectrum. Sometimes it’s overt, and that insidious, musty, wet cardboard smell is pervasive. Other times it is much more discreet, and wine pros debate its presence. However apparent, it won’t make you sick, but the wine certainly won’t taste the way the winemaker intended. (All that mustiness mutes fruit, leaving the wine tasting dirty and flat.) The worst part is that most wine drinkers have never even heard of TCA. They drink a wine that tastes musty, or maybe just “off,” and make a mental note not to buy that wine again. How sad.
The solution? There are a number of enclosures that eliminate the possibility of TCA cork contamination. Zorks, glass tops, synthetic or plastic stoppers (unfortunately hard to open), and screw caps are all promising options. You’ll find the majority of these alternative enclosures on wine from the industry’s youngest and most innovative regions, like New Zealand. The real reason why most wineries don’t switch to cork alternatives and fix the problem of TCA right now is perception—they think you’ll think their wine is cheap.
Now, to be fair, there is some validity to the argument that the teeny-tiny amount of oxygen exchange that happens with natural cork plays an important role in the evolution of fine wine over decades—decades! But most people are drinking the wine they buy today, today.* So for all but the most enduring wines, this argument is a moot point.
There are plenty of people who lament over the potential loss of the tradition, romance, or pop of a true cork. However, I can assure you there is nothing romantic about a corked bottle of wine. My advice? Screw corks whenever possible; buy wines with screw caps.

* In the U.S., the average time between when people purchase and consume wine is four hours!

3 comments on “wine lie #2: screw caps = cheap wine

  1. Paul Torres
    January 9, 2014

    I decided to go with Screw Caps for one of my brands — Elizabeth Rose —

    With a Yountville AVA and being certified Organic we have met huge market resistance for these Napa Based Varietals that retail for $18 – $20

    The perception that Screw caps represent “Cheap Wine” still prevails —

    I Agree with your position — especially since the Shelf to table time really is 4 hours. One additional point… inexpensive wines usually have VERY inexpensive and poor corks — creating the true weakest link..

    Screw Caps Rock – The Snap Of Freshness!

    Paul

  2. thewineraconteur
    January 9, 2014

    Melanie,
    I just adore your vitality when you write. Years ago, I remember having a conversation with a couple at the next table at a restaurant called Tapawingo. We were having a Gevrey-Chambertin and they were having Lafite and he was objecting to the classic protocol of wine service. I mentioned to him that d’Yquem had for the first time bottled half of the vintage with cork and the other half with screw-cap and the other gentleman approved. Of course I go back to the days of Thunderbird and Boone’s Farm in my youth and a cork was no where to be seen. Four hours, I guess I would skew that research. A great article and I like your advice, you have a way with words.

  3. Eileen
    January 10, 2014

    Well the screw top is certainly much more convenient! It does seem like a charming bit of history slipping away though. And I read an interesting article about the ecological implications of the shift away from cork. Here’s a link if interested:

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/aug/22/cork-screw-cap-wine-environment

    Enjoying a glass as I type. The bottle had a screw top.
    Eileen

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