Question from Jennifer: I heard a bad rumor that wineries were going to the plastic or screw tops on wine bottles… It would really cheapen the experience of a moment. Opening the wine to the pleasure of a cork is a historic and romantic reminder of the occasion. I think many people would agree that this is a dishearting change in the future of wine. Please tell me it is not true.
Anwer: Hi, Jennifer! Thanks for writing! Well, I can tell you it’s not true here at Goosecross but, in fact, there are more and more wineries are switching to cork alternatives every year. Most of the wines with the alternative closures are moderately priced, although there are exceptions.There are two main forces at work. One is cost. Natural cork is expensive compared to plastic corks and screw caps. The other is referred to as “cork taint.” No one seems to agree on the frequency, but from time to time a bad cork will taint the wine so that it smells musty and moldy. It’s not harmful, but it ruins the wine and some winemakers don’t want to deal with the risk any more.
It’s ironic that the new closures have become so widely accepted now that the cork industry has nearly solved most of the cork taint issues (and many would say that the cork industry went to work on this only due to the growing popularity of the alternatives.) Our supplier has access to cutting-edge means for measuring the trichloroanisol (TCA) that causes the taint and has also developed a very sophisticated way of removing it. Other companies are doing similar work, and it’s probably just a matter of a short period of time before cork taint is no longer an issue.
Let me give you a quick run-down on the most popular alternatives.
Plastic Corks: There’s no risk of TCA and they can protect the wine for up to around three years. So, they’re only meant for wines that should be consumed young. Sometimes they’re difficult to extract from the bottle.
Screw Caps: There’s no risk of TCA and they appear to be superior to cork in protecting the wine from oxygen. We need to wait and see what happens over the long term. Some enologists are concerned that the screw cap protects the wine from oxygen so well that the wine may become “reduced” and smell like rubber after a period of time. Others say that concern is overblown. A clear-cut advantage of the screw cap is for those times when you forgot to bring your opener! There are a few other new closures out there. We have an article on our website with more detailed information. We also did a 4-part podcast with our cork supplier discussing these very issues right here at Napa Valley Wine Radio, episodes 18-21.I should add that wine can become tainted with TCA from sources other than the cork, but it’s not nearly as common.
I understand how you feel. Nothing else has the cachet of natural cork. Surveys tell us that Americans are accepting plastic corks very well but we’re not warming up to the screw cap as quickly. Anecdotally, when the topic comes up in our tasting room, it seems the majority of people still prefer cork.
So, I’m afraid I may not have made you feel better, but I cannot tell a lie with George Washington’s Birthday approaching. Anyway, I hope the information is helpful to you. Cheers! Nancy