"Look at this - 20 wines, just one cork!"
That's what George said just before our Australian wine tasting on Saturday. Normally when we host a tasting, regardless of where the wines come from, we end up with dozens of corks strewn across the tables. Australians have embraced the use of screw-cap enclosures for a long time, much more so than wine makers in other countries, but this was really striking - just one cork! One!
|So many screw-caps!|
What's the reason for this? And are screw-caps better?
There are a few reasons, but the most important one, and the best argument for switching to screw-caps, is cork taint. All cork is sterilized before being used, but the sterilization process is imperfect. About 3% to 5% of all corks remain contaminated with a chemical compound known as TCA - it is harmless to humans, but ruins the wine. If your wine is "corked" - contaminated by TCA - it will either smell like nothing at all (if it is very mildly contaminated), or like a damp, moldy basement or wet socks. It's not pleasant, and it can happen to any wine with a cork enclosure - whether it's your $8 bottle of Pinot Grigio or your $200 bottle of Bordeaux. No wine is safe.
Unless you use a screw-cap, that is. Screw-caps completely side-step this issue. They provide a perfect seal to every bottle, every time. And don't believe the myth that only cheap wines come in screw-caps. John Duval, one of the great wine makers of the world, makes absolutely stunning wines in Australia's Barossa Valley, and all but one of his wines come in screw-caps.
|The lone cork.|
Screw-caps do have two main disadvantages, though. I once spoke to a French wine maker considering making the switch from cork to screw-cap. He told me that he had been experimenting with screw-caps for years, including aging them long-term in his cellars. He found that there were no flavor differences between wines sealed with corks and screw-caps until they'd been aged for about 8 years or so, after which point the cork-sealed wines started to perform better. So if you're planning on aging your wine long-term, cork is probably the way to go. (I'll be putting a couple bottles of John Duval's screw-capped wines in my cellar - you can read about one of them here. When I open them up in 10 years, I'll let you know how they do!)
The other disadvantage is probably the one most people are concerned with - no "pop!" A lot of people enjoy the ceremony of using a cork screw to pop open a bottle of wine, and they miss that when they drink a screw-capped wine.