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Published on April 4th, 2024. 

Why You Shouldn’t Fear Screw Caps on Your Wine

To Cork, or Not to Cork?

The world of wine is a blend of tradition and innovation, where even the method of sealing a bottle can spark heated debate. Since the late 1950s, the introduction of screw-capped wine has challenged the longstanding dominance of natural cork closures. From combating cork taint to embracing modernity, the journey of screw-capped wine is a fascinating tale of adaptation and acceptance in the ever-evolving world of viticulture.

Origins and Advantages of Screw Caps


Since the late 1950s, screw-capped wine has grappled with negative associations. It all started when French researchers introduced “Stelcap vin” to combat cork taint, a pesky issue affecting wines sealed with natural cork. When your sommelier mentions a wine being ‘corked’, they’re referring to this problem. Essentially, natural corks can harbour a bacteria called TCA, which contaminates the wine upon sealing, leaving it with an unpleasant taste resembling wet cardboard or a musty basement.


TCA isn’t harmful, but it ruins the wine experience. The risk of encountering it with natural corks hovers between 3% to 8%, an unacceptable margin for many. In contrast, screw cap closures dramatically reduce the risk of cork taint. Though theoretically possible, instances of TCA contamination with screw caps are exceedingly rare. This led winemakers to embrace screw caps not because they’re cheaper or signify low quality (a common misconception), but because they effectively preserve the wine’s integrity.

Debates and Considerations of Screw Caps


Despite initial scepticism within wine circles, the screw cap’s potential was recognized when Australian Consolidated Industries (ACI) acquired the rights in 1970, renaming it Stelvin. Initially, Australia was still an emerging wine region, but ACI’s experimentation with different materials and widths paved the way for screw caps’ acceptance. By 2000, a group of winemakers in Australia’s Clare Valley sealed a quarter of a million bottles under screw caps, demonstrating their aging potential. New Zealand followed suit, with 70% of its wine using Stelvin closures by 2004.


Fast forward to today, and the screw cap has gained widespread acceptance, with many winemakers worldwide ditching cork altogether. Notable advocates include Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, who famously held a cork funeral in 2002, declaring the screw cap his preferred closure.


Despite growing acceptance, there’s ongoing debate regarding how screw caps influence wine aging. While the Australian test showcased promising results over a few years, questions remain about long-term aging. Some argue that the small pores in cork allowing minimal oxygen interaction to contribute to wine evolution, a process hindered by screw caps’ airtight seal. However, others suggest that wine evolution occurs independently of oxygen interaction.

Screw Caps from a Consumer Perspective


For consumers, the screw cap shouldn’t be feared, especially for wines meant for everyday enjoyment rather than decades-long cellaring. Many winemakers reserve screw caps for these everyday wines, saving cork for premium bottles.


Though transitioning to screw caps may require investment in equipment, the long-term cost savings benefit winemakers. So, don’t overlook wines with screw caps—they often serve as a gateway to discovering a winemaker’s more refined offerings. It’s truly a win-win situation.

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