About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Friday, April 20, 2007
Cork vs. Screw Cap
In very much of a coincidence, the day after reading this at The Elegant Sufficiency, the Picardy newsletter passed across my desk. For those who don't know Picardy, it is a winery in the Pemberton district of Western Australia, started by the Pannell family who also started the very well regarded Moss Wood vineyard at Margaret River. Moss Wood in fact is one of the vineyards that were responsible for putting this region on the wine map and Picardy wines are no slouches either, so when they write about a subject in their newsletter it's well worth listening to what they have to say.

What Stephanie was posting about in part was the issue of cork versus screw cap as the method of wine closure and that on this particular occasion was looking for a wine under screw cap as she didn't want to risk cork taint. I knew exactly what she was talking about and my feelings on the subject seem close to hers, I like wines under screw cap, so it was a bit of a shock to read this from such a well regarded winery.

A recent assessment of a very large number of wines in a UK wine show revealed that 2.2% of them are developing SLO (sulphur like odours) under screw caps. By contrast, due to improved cork selection and treatment, the level of TCA (cork taint) in wines under cork is running at about 1%. This percentage appears to be even lower at Picardy with around 0.3% of cork taint in the wines.
Our Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz wines are produced using reductive techniques involving long periods on yeast lees, and are prone to reduction (development of SLO) under screw caps. This problem can be avoided by treating the wine with copper-sulphate (copper fining), but this will remove many of the nuances and complexities which we look for in our wines.
We had always envisaged that when we made a Sauvignon Blanc at Picardy, it would be bottled under screw cap. Research by Dr Henty Sweigers et al at The Australian Wine Research Institute gave us cause to reconsider!
Copper fining is a necessary pre-requisite to bottling Sauvignon Blanc under screw cap. Unfortunately, this process also removes many of the compounds which are responsible for Sauvignon Blanc character in the wine.
We proved this to ourselves by experimenting with a number of bottles under screw cap from the 2006 trial batch of Sauvignon Blanc. The loss of varietal character from the wine can only described as devastating compared to the majority of the wine which is under cork.
Picardy Sauvignon Blanc (due in 2008) will certainly be bottled under cork as a result of this experience.

The newsletter went on to say that screw caps had had a positive influence on the quality of corks, forcing cork producers to find answers to the problem, and cork taint levels that were running at 3% had fallen in their experience to less than 1%. It was interesting that Stephanie had written that she was disappointed in the wine she had bought and given that she spent around thirty dollars, would have reasonably expected something decent, perhaps the wine had been copper fined and as a result was lesser for the experience. It looks like I'm in for a rethink on the whole screw cap versus cork debate.

In another coincidental matter, my friends, Prince Wine Store are offering a free tasting of wines from the Iberian Peninsula, with wines from Spain and Portugal. This is what Jancis Robinson has to say about Portuguese wines...

Portuguese table wines are a mystery – to most non-Portuguese anyway. This is a great shame as Portugal has many unique attributes as a wine producer, not least its dazzling range of indigenous grape varieties, many of them, such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Trincadeira and Castelão among many reds and Arinto, Bical and Fernão Pires among whites, with their own powerful and attractive identities. This is in stark contrast to Spain which has almost five times as much vineyard as Portugal and yet has drawn on a much narrower range of vine varieties.

I wonder if any of the Portuguese wines will be under screw cap?

When: Saturday, April 21 (12-2pm)
Where: Prince Wine Store, 177 Bank Street, South Melbourne
Cost: FREE

Edited to add: After I posted this I had a chat to one of the guys at Vintage Cellars about this subject and he added that some wines do better than others under screw cap. He particularly mentioned riesling as one wine that did well and chardonnay as one that didn't. Can anyone shed further light as to which wines work well under screw cap and those that don't?

Labels: , ,

  posted at 10:43 am

At 5:50 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

We had some wonderful wines the week we spent in the Azors on Fial. Simple local wines but very good.
That is really interesting about the screw caps and the chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc especially.

At 7:28 am, Blogger Gigi said...

I bought a few bottles of a Dry Riesling that had been recommended by the shopkeeper for a dinner party. It wasn't until I brought it to the table that I realized it was under screw cap, and I felt compelled to explain that the wine was perfectly respectable ~ how silly of me! It turned out to be a truly delightful wine. Still, I can't shake a preference for the ritual of cork, even though I have had some tainted bottles.

What about synthetic corks? You get the ritual and lose the taint...

At 4:35 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, there are some very good wines coming out of there for sure, something for every taste. I really was shocked to find that out about screw caps, I thought they really were the holy grail.

Hi gigi, I know exactly what you mean. You know how they have those birthday cards that play a tune? Maybe they could install that technology under the screw cap to mimic the sound of a popping cork!

At 10:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil... interesting stuff. I suppose it's to be expected that screwcaps would have to have some flavour effects, just like any other closure. I have to say though, that I prefer them to the synthetics... a synthetic cork is a bit like one of those fake log fires if you ask me!
I'm pretty sure that I just made a poor choice of chardonnay from a very ordinary bottleshop's uninspiring offerings.
Hate to think too, what wine prices are going to do in the next few months: we've been very lucky in the past few years with the grape glut ...

At 9:53 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi stephanie, I thought it was fascinating that the effect on the flavour wasn't the screw cap per se, rather what happens to the wine prior to closure and also that the effects are different depending on the grape variety. I'm not too worried about price rises just yet, that wine lake is pretty big, almost as big as the Thompson dam used to be...

At 4:54 pm, Blogger thanh7580 said...

Neil, you bring up an interesting topic that has been debated endlessly. I don't mind whether its a cork or screw cap in terms of the ritual of opening it. I do find a screw top is very convenient, especially when you're out somewhere and can't find a bottle opener. If the screw cap makes the wine lose some of its complexities, then I would rather have the cork.

On a side note, I was at a training where we were learning about being creative. Some Australians have invented wine in a can. It's not that you drink the wine from the can that they patented, but the storage method of the wine to keep the flavour and not have it go off. I wonder if this can be applied to screw caps. Also, apparently Australians are very against having their wines from a can whereas its very popular overseas. It makes a lot of sense to have wines in small convenient sizes that are easy to carry around and also good for one person.

At 5:22 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi thanh7580, I'm with you, screw caps are convenient but I'd rather not lose flavour. I have no problem with a can other than the problem I have with cask wines in general - can't they put something decent inside?


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