jamie goode's wine blog: Wine personality of the decade? The screwcap

Monday, January 04, 2010

Wine personality of the decade? The screwcap

As the recent online survey on the excellent Dr Vino blog has demonstrated rather well (IMHO), it’s very hard to pick one single person who deserves to win this award. So my vote goes to a thing, not a person. And that thing is the screwcap.

10 years ago cork was performing pretty badly. Cork taint was a big issue, and the Australians were also getting cross about a phenomenon called random oxidation, caused by the variable nature of oxygen transmission by poor quality corks.

The only alternative to cork was the new but rather poorly performing plastic cork, and that wasn’t winning too many friends. So cork producers had little motivation to up their game, because they enjoyed what was effectively a monopoly situation.

The major breakthrough came in 2000, when a bunch of Clare Valley producers formed a coalition to release their Rieslings under screwcap. This initiative, and the publicity that ensued, changed the closures market forever.

As the results from the Australian Wine Research Institute’s Closures Trial, initiated in 1999, began to appear, they showed that screwcaps kept the wine fresher and fruitier for longer than any of the other closures available, including natural cork.

The adoption of screwcaps by the Australian and New Zealand producers was almost immediate. With the tin/saranex liner, screwcaps now seal the vast majority of bottles in these two countries. Of the estimated 18 billion bottles of wines sealed each year, screwcaps now account for over 2 billion (synthetic corks have also done well, and account for around 4 billion).

But screwcaps aren’t the perfect closure. Currently there are just two liners used: tin/saranex and saranex only. The first, the one used almost exclusively in Australia and New Zealand, allows very little oxygen transmission at all (probably not enough), and the second a little more than an average natural cork: ideally, we’d like a liner with intermediate properties.

And they haven’t been widely accepted in all markets. But what they have done is change the closures market completely. Were it not for screwcaps, it’s unlikely the cork industry would have implemented the quality control measures that they have. And it is unlikely that we’d have seen the rise of alternative closures such as Diam, Vino-Lok and the improved new generation synthetic corks. It is only since they've been widely used that we've started to get to grips with post-bottling wine chemistry.

The noughties have definitely been the decade of the screwcap.

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At 4:44 PM, Blogger Warren EDWARDES said...

It has to be a tie between Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling for the massive increases in Wine Duty.

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Tokaji Lite Blogger said...

I adore the effort of developers in screwcap.
For example Austria also moves to this direction and they use the colors of the country flag on the of the screwcap. Really nice marketing idea.

At 6:57 AM, Blogger Martin said...

What a brave call, and absolutely spot on. I am sure this will put a few noses out of joint. I have noticed on Jancis’ website there have been some complaints of oxidised white burgundys from 10 years ago. These should be drinking at their peak, not past it. Nobody is blaming the cork producers and this amazes me. Real head in sand stuff. Would also like to nominate the rise of wine blogs for this award. These frank discussions have changed the way I drink – in a wonderful way.

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Nick Oakley said...

Sainsbury just announced their move to put all own label wines under real cork closures. Not so much a vote of no confidence in screwcap, one suspects, more an ackowledgement of the improvement in cork quality

At 7:06 PM, Blogger Wilf G.K said...

Good call, Jamie. I think we will see a lot more of the alternative closures in the next decade. I kind of like the Zork closure.

At 11:35 PM, Blogger Martin said...

Nick, is this correct about Sainsburys? I can find info on them moving all wine that is currently under cork to FSC approved cork, but this doesn’t change the volume just the certification. FSC doesn’t include only “real” cork as you put it, but can include aglo and conglomerate cork and all the other glue based products such as champagne cork, Diam etc as long as the wood source is approved.
If what you say is correct, then again we see the power of a few costing us money – the UK supermarkets instigated and pushed the drive to synthetics 10 or 11 years ago, forced screwcaps onto winemakers who didn’t want them(particularly in Sth Africa) and now are swinging back. All these steps cost millions in glass and closure development that could have been spent on vineyard and winery improvements instead. As well as confusing an already sceptical consumer base.

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Nick Oakley said...


Very interesting. The information came to me via a Portuguese newsfeed, and it is clear in its statement (which I copy here - it's in Portuguese) It is saying what you say, that corks used will be FSC certified but goes on to say 'thereby abandoning screwcap and plastic closures'

It references an article in the Guardian newspaper. I guess one needs to check the original article to check the veracity of this report.

It is couched in the terms of being a great victory in this important sector of the Portuguese economy... Let's see.

Vinhos da Sainsbury's apenas com rolha de cortiça
04/01/2010 11:54

Nada melhor do que começarmos o ano de 2010 com uma excelente notícia. Saiu nos últimos dias de 2009 uma notícia no jornal britânico “The Guardian” que nos deve servir a todos de motivação e orgulho.
A cadeia de supermercados Sainsbury’s anunciou que todos os vinhos com a sua marca vão utilizar rolhas de cortiça (com certificação FSC), abandonando assim a utilização de vedantes alternativos (plástico e screw-cap). Esta alteração começará a surtir efeito já este mês quando forem engarrafadas as primeiras garrafas de champanhe desta cadeia com rolhas certificadas pelo FSC, e todos os vinhos e champanhes serão engarrafados com esse tipo de vedante até ao final de 2010.

Como motivo para esta decisão os responsáveis da empresa apresentam quer aspectos ambientais quer aspectos do próprio desempenho das rolhas de cortiça.
Apesar de estarmos a falar “apenas” de uma cadeia de supermercados é sem sombra de dúvida uma “conquista” bastante importante para o nosso sector que será certamente exemplo para futuras decisões de outros grupos.
Deveria servir também de exemplo para alguns que pensam que optar por vedantes alternativos é sinónimo de progresso e inovação, fazendo-os ver que essa opção poderá significar a escolha de uma solução que está agora a ser abandonada...

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Nick Oakley said...


Further to my earlier posting it looks like you are right. Here is the original article in the Guardian, which clearly states that WHERE CORK IS CURRENTLY USED, they will be moving to FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) accredited cork closures, that's all


So perhaps it was wishful thinking on the part of the Portuguese newsdesks.........

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

I got some press releases from portugal with the misleading interpretation, which I think was wishful thinking indeed.

At 10:40 PM, Blogger Jim Budd said...

Even in Portugal screwcaps have made inroads – half bottles of Mateus Rosé on the home market are closed with scewcaps

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Pingus Vinicus said...

Forget the artificial corks. Long live the cork.
Mateus with srewp cap? My God, I'm glad I do not drink.

At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what do you think about vino-lok? I found this alternative closure even smarter. It also sounds more eco-friendly and you can re-use in a perfect way. Finally it is simple and fine glass, allowing a correct aesthetical difference between a bottle of wine and a bottle of a superalcoholic (in italy the screwcap is mostly seen on Martini, low cost rhum or cognac, and oil...)

At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't buy into vino-lok being more eco-friendly. You still need the aluminium protective capsule which is placed over it and to me it seems like a double 'waste' of resources.

The thing I've never quite understood is why so-called 'value wines' aren't reverting back to cork and the mid-tiers sealed under screw cap. Makes a lot more sense to me to risk spoiling a €5.00 bottle rather than a €15.00 wine and since the volumes of the former are presumably much higher, would certainly be eco-friendlier.



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