by Markus Stolz

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byMarkus Stolz
February 25, 2010, 17 Comments

Many experts favour Stelvin screwcaps as the choice of closure for wines. Natural corks do result in an unacceptable high percentage of corked wines. The chief source of cork taint is the presence of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) in the wine, which in many cases is transferred from the cork. Often the wine is completely spoiled; sometimes it leads to less obvious but still noticeable undesirable smells or tastes that do affect the wine. I have wondered for many years why this should be acceptable – is there any other product where such a high rate of spoilage is tolerable?

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon fame tested synthetic closures for a couple of years in the late nineties and ended up “greatly comprising the quality and longevity of a few wines that were quite important to us – a real pity”. He has since moved to bottle his entire production with screwcaps and is delighted with the results.

Another strong supporter of Stelvin screwcaps is my good friend Dirk Wuertz, a winemaker from Rheinhessen in Germany, who has little doubt that this closure will be the future choice for winemakers to use.

Greek Master of Wine Konstantinos Lazarakis also stated recently that screwcaps “rule” as they keep freshness up and direct development down. One of the few Greek winemakers that do use Stelvin screwcaps is Georgos Skouras. His Viognier and Chardonnay wines age exceptionally well.

However, the vast majority of Greek wines use either natural cork or synthetic closures. I called Petros Markantonatas from the Gentilini winery, as his estate was one of the first ones in Greece to opt for synthetic closures 10 years back. The main reason that synthetic closures are being used is the perceived customer acceptance in Greece. It was relatively easy to move from natural cork to synthetic closure, but the Greek consumer still likes to open a bottle of wine “the traditional way”. Another factor is that the existing bottling lines cater easily for both natural cork and synthetic closures, whereas new equipment needs to be employed for screwcaps. At the same time, the Gentilini winery is actually planning to move towards screwcaps for the export markets. Personally I also observe that nearly all wines are drunk young in Greece, the concept of storing and ageing wines is a relative new one for the Greek consumer.

I would love to hear the opinions of winemakers and consumers alike on the issue of closures via the comment section as I feel that the topic is a very important one that deserves more attention.

Note: Randall Grahm’s observations are loosely quoted from his book “Been Doon So Long“, in addition he has voiced his opinions several times via twitter. When he speaks, I listen!

Update: Please also check out this article by @enobytes

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  1. Mike JonesFebruary 25, 2010, 6:50 pm

    Hey Markus
    Have been trying to get Petros to move most of Gentilini’s production to screwcap ever since working for him! Whilst researching closures a few years ago I came across a book by Tyson Stelzer ‘called Screwed for Good’ which convinced me the humble screwcap was the way forward for wine designed to be consumed young. In this book it states that research that took place by Penfolds the Australian giant, concluded that wine made from the grape variety Riesling and bottled under screwcap actually maintained fruit character and freshness for far longer than the same wine bottled under cork. However, the company soon realised that the screwcap was not accepted by the market and so dropped it from their production until a program of educational marketing tools was put together to teach the consumer what they had found. The funny thing is that this was undertaken in the 70’s and took around 30 years to get accepted by the markets (in the U.K.). Whilst working at Oddbins in the early part of the naughties, i soon realised that the screwcap was creeping in slowly but surely. On mostly antipodean wine with carefully worded bottle neck literature it was slow to be accepted by the British public but being accepted it surely was. From a consumer point of view, the screwcap reminded people of inferior blends but markets soon realised that the wine was definitely not that case. I believe and hope the same can happen in Greece. It just needs 2 or 3 popular brands to have enough balls to change the way people think. I had a meal in a local Taverna a couple of years ago and ordered Skouras Viognier. When the wine came, i immediately recognised the screwcap and thought ‘Yes, the revolution is happening’. However the waiter looked completely confused with his corkscrew at the ready and had to be prompted by me as to what to do….. How many other stories like that are out there?

  2. elloinosFebruary 25, 2010, 7:03 pm

    Hi Mike, thank you so much for this valueable insight – greatly appreciated! For all readers who don’t know Mike yet, he is one of the winemakers at the Gentilini winery. During my own research I also came across many references that screwcaps is a far better closure than cork, especially when it comes to ageing the wine. Skouras wines are a great showcase for this. I agree 100% with you that the public could well be persuaded to accept this. For example, the public perception in the US, UK and Germany has also led to the acceptance of bag in the box wines. The wine consumers in Greece are getting really interested in wines, just look how well visited any wine events are, or how many wine bars can now be found in Athens. Thank you very much for engaging here, it is great to hear the viewpoint of a winemaker, cheers!

  3. Michael PlunkettFebruary 26, 2010, 1:56 pm

    As a 30 yr veteran of the hospitality industry I can tell you ,for wine service the screw cap is a gift .It is also convenient a can be displayed better as it can be stored standing up.As to aging ,I am still waiting to see how it performs over the long term.Cheers.

  4. elloinosFebruary 26, 2010, 2:03 pm

    Michael, great to hear the insights from someone who knows the hospitality industry so well. I appreciate your comment and I can clearly see the advantages you point out. I take it that hospitality industry is quite supportive of screwcaps, which is very important as it deals with many consumers.

  5. Thomas PellechiaFebruary 26, 2010, 3:57 pm

    I’m a fan of the screwcap, but I have encountered some that are truly difficult to twist, and after a few tries, the whole thing turns instead of the little cap snapping away from the capsule portion, and then I have to rip into it with a sharp instrument.

    Why is that? It’s not a new technology.

  6. elloinosFebruary 26, 2010, 4:16 pm

    Thomas, glad to hear you are also a supporter of screwcaps. I have had similar problems a few times in the past, not sure why that is though… Maybe we can have someone from the technical side of things advise on this?

  7. Thomas PellechiaFebruary 26, 2010, 11:45 pm

    Markus,

    Have had my full allotment of TCA…and I despise those plastic things, no matter what color they are.

  8. Randall GrahmFebruary 27, 2010, 4:44 pm

    I have been working with screwcaps for the last ten years and find that I love them in ways that I never anticipated when I began the practice. It is a misconception that screwcaps are only appropriate for wines that are to be consumed young. In fact, it might be argued that they are particularly appropriate for vins de garde, as they slow down the maturation process, and this ultimately redounds to a much longer wine-life. Further, one is not obliged to use as much sulfur dioxide in the wine with screwcpas, as compared to corks, to achieve a comparable level of protection against oxidation; this is a very beautiful thing.

    I don’t honestly know if synthetic closures have improved significantly since I used them at the end of the last century, but my experience with them was particularly disappointing; they led to a greatly shortened shelf life of some of my wines. (Others attempted to warn me off, but stubborn person that I am, I refused to listen at the time.) It is a real shame that many wine producers are still fearful of “what would my consumers think?,” and engage in practices that compromise the quality of their wines. Their first allegiance should be to the integrity of their product, not to perceived commercial expedience. Wine producers, sommeliers, wine sellers and wine writers ought acknowledge their role as educators and not simply providers of a service. By not following best practices to insure the integrity of their product, they are doing a disservice to their customers.

  9. Mike JonesFebruary 27, 2010, 5:21 pm

    Nice one Randall. Love your work………….

  10. elloinosFebruary 27, 2010, 5:33 pm

    Randall, thank you very much indeed for sharing your experience with us. Your insight is invaluable – and your advice will hopefully be heeded. I wish to engage the Greek winemakers in a discussion concerning the closures. As you point out quite correctly, the focus should be on the quality of the product.

    Personally, I do not like that synthetic closures are currently so popular in Greece. I am hopeful that things will change, and your voice certainly is crucial, as you are well respected here. Greek wine producers engage quite actively with the consumer, and do have the chance to educate them. In addition, the Greek wine consumer really starts to show a much more serious interest for wines as just a short few years ago. He/she is eager to learn, and from my experience is quite open-minded.

  11. Petros MarkantonatosFebruary 27, 2010, 9:13 pm

    Fantastic input from Randall.
    Don’t take me wrong – I’m eager to use Screwcaps!
    Screwcap IT’S the way forward!!!!
    I will work with Mike to bottle some Gentilini Robola 2009 under the Screw to see how it goes.

  12. Kostas KatsoulierisFebruary 28, 2010, 11:16 am

    I think the results speak for themselves. There are few consumer industries that would accept the rate of spoilage (that corks give) as an acceptable loss. As Randall said integrity of product (and therefore a good track record) is what should be important. What consumer would not feel agrieved if they had shelled out good hard earned money for a bottle of wine (especially for a premium wine) and/or waited patiently as the wine aged only to find upon opnening that it had spolied? Admittedly there is a certain fun (bordering on ritualiistic) aspect to popping a cork but once again it’s about changing people’s perceptions. Also in these environmentally conscious times are screwcaps not better as they are recyclable (I would think)? Keep up the great work Markus – you certainly pick great topics to initiate debate! Kalh evdomada kai kalo mhna aurio!

  13. elloinosFebruary 28, 2010, 12:46 pm

    Petro, great news indeed – I like the swift action from you. I know you have been toying with the idea, but to decide quickly to start using screwcaps for part of the current vintage is a bold move – well done.

  14. elloinosFebruary 28, 2010, 12:55 pm

    Kosta, thank you – I am delighted that this debate already yields the first results, which can only be good for the consumer. I hope that other Greek winemakers will follow suit, I like their open-mindedness, which speaks for itself.

  15. Thomas PellechiaMarch 1, 2010, 3:54 pm

    Just remember that wine once came in sacks, amphora, and who knows what and the early bottles were capped with rags and/or wax before cork. It takes time for changes to be completed–but change comes.

    It is amazing that in a technological world and a technological industry, there remain wine producers resistant to technological advancement as easy as the screwcap.

  16. Viviane Bauquet Farre / Food & StyleMarch 2, 2010, 1:59 am

    I am a consumer, a wine lover and I adore screwcaps! I wish all wines had screwcaps and I’m sure not too long in the future they all will. Yes, there’s a charm about uncorking a bottle, but I’ve opened too many bottles of great wines that have been ruined by TCA.

    Markus, thank you for writing such a wonderful post. It’s not a small matter I understand, but as a consumer, I would say to all winemakers that screwcaps do not deter me from buying wines, quite the contrary. And I would like to add that for many consumers, storing wines is an issue. Screwcaps ensure that wines might survive the less than desirable storing facilities that most people have.

    I wholeheartedly vote for screwcaps. Since so many established and knowledgeable winemakers (like Randall Grahm) have embraced them and tell us the wines benefit from them, what is there to fear?

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