Bottle Closures
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Wine Debate - Bottle Closures

Somebody in the wine trade once said "...never talk religion, politics or closures on a first date". This was probably good advice, not least because you'd bore the pants off your date (maybe this was your objective - Ed!). But, the debate of cork versus screwcap lingers on in the wine world and its probably one that will continue as long as Beatles or Stones, HP or Heinz and CD or download?

We, at West Mount Wine, are working hard to get people thinking and understanding more about what they drink and that includes how it's packaged. So for our first 'debate', we thought we'd look at bottle closures and how it might affect the wine inside as well as your perception of it.

The Basic Requirements

A bottle closure has two main purposes:

1. Keep the liquid inside the bottle - pretty obvious
2. Keep oxygen out of the bottle - oxygen quickly spoils wine and turns it into vinegar.

BUT, a little bit of oxygen is key in the wine maturation process, so it should let a little bit in...

There are a few other things we also need to consider:

1. It should be easy to apply to the bottle
2. It should be easy to remove
3. It should be low-cost - we'd rather the money be spent on the liquid rather than the packaging, but it needs to keep the liquid in good condition through its potentially long life.

Natural cork fulfils this role pretty well. It is a natural product which comes from a renewable source and is biodegradable, so it has pretty good green credentials too.

So what's the problem with cork?

Well basically, cork taint or a corked wine.

Corked wine is caused by a reaction between penicillium mould in the cork and the chlorine chemicals used in the sterilisation process for the cork. This results in substance known as 2,4,6-trichloranisole (better known as TCA for short) and this makes the wine STINK! Pretty much like wet cardboard. Although the wine will be safe to drink when corked, it doesn't really taste or smell very nice.

At this point, every article on this subject points out that a wine is not corked if it has bits of cork in it. So there you go...

It is possible for TCA to be generated by other means in wine, but cork pretty much gets blamed.

TCA can affect wine in varying degrees and in some cases is very difficult to notice. But, it has been estimated that 1 in 10 bottles sealed with natural cork are corked wines. How true this is can be the subject of much debate and personally I think it is over estimated. But, nonetheless it is a real issue.

Why are screwcaps better then?

Who said they were better? They're just different.

The proper name for screwcaps is a ROPP (Rolled On Pilfer Proof) closure. In the wine trade, they are often known by their brand name which is Stelvin.

They have a number of advantages over cork:

1. you don't need a special tool to open the wine - known as a corkscrew
2. they do not cause cork taint
3. they are a very good oxygen barrier.

But... some winemakers are concerned about a totally 'oxygen free' closure, worrying that the development of the wine will be hampered by the lack of oxygen. Lots of (inconclusive as yet) research is underway to determine the long-term effects of this lack of oxygen on maturing wines.

Additionally, this lack of oxygen can lead to reductive reactions taking place, which can leave the wine with a distinct smell of Hydrogen Sulphide (i.e. bad egg smell). Yuck!

Finally, there is still the connotation that wine sealed with screwcaps is cheap wine.

So, what's West Mount Wine's Point of View?

Well, there is no easy answer to this. You will have noticed that WMW sell wines sealed with both cork and screwcaps, along with other synthetic closures (not enough space to talk about that one - Ed.)

Consumer behaviour and preference is likely to be the key influencer in the drive towards screwcaps. For instance, Wine Intelligence recently found that two-thirds of Tesco's white wine and almost half of its red wine had screwcaps, but the closure remained heavily concentrated in the New World section.

Ultimately, you pays your money and takes your choice. For me, screwcaps are ideal for wine that is destined to be drunk young (especially whites which show the affects of lower levels of TCA more quickly). For wines destined to be cellared, my preference would be for good quality, natural cork - it has the track record.

You might like to investigate the various closures yourself, so please do look at the wine catalogue to find wines that are sealed with various closures.

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