screwcaps in favour of cork?
South African winery Klein Constantia makes a surprising switch
week I quizzed Klein Constantia winemaker Adam Mason (right)
about his choice to switch back to cork from screwcaps for his top
Sauvignon Blanc, the Perdeblokke. This has created a lot of
discussion (for example, see Victoria Moore’s well reasoned piece here
and the associated comments).
Klein Constantia first moved to screwcap
for some of its wines in 2003, and the Perdeblokke Sauvignon was
bottled under screwcap from 2006–2009. However, the 2010 vintage
will be back in cork.
‘The Pederblokke was screwcapped but I
always got a slight whiff of sulfide on opening it,’ explains
Adam. ‘This is a lees-aged wine, and we are looking for some
Adam says that making this switch was
seen by many screwcap advocates as an admission of incompetence.
They argue that there is nothing wrong with screwcaps: they just
require a different approach to winemaking—and that giving up on
screwcaps shows that Adam has failed to master this. But Adam sees
this a different way. ‘Rather than compromise the winemaking,’
he explained, ‘I decided to go back to cork. I didn’t want to
let the tail wag the dog. Why change your winemaking style to match
‘By bottling under screwcap, we lowered
the quality of the wine,’ says Adam. But he’s not anti-screwcap,
and recognizes the importance of the emergence of alternatives to
cork for helping the cork industry address issues of taint and
inconsistency. ‘The best thing that happened to the cork industry
was the screwcap,’ he states.
To put this in perspective, Adam still uses screwcap for the 100 000
bottles of regular Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc - the shift is
solely for the 3000 bottles of Perdeblokke.
Another gifted young South African
winemaker, Duncan Savage of Cape Point, is also making a similar
switch. ‘We went to screwcap for the first time in 2010,’ he
says. ‘We’re going to change back to cork.’
Ultimately, this sort of decision making
is prompted by an honest appraisal of how wines actually taste under
different closure. It also recognizes that closure choice does
affect the flavour of wine. It’s quite a shift from the prevailing
Australian and New Zealand view, which unfortunately does not
display such an open mind about closure issues.
There, many winemakers are extremely
defensive about the suitability of screwcaps for all wine styles,
and seem to dismiss the idea of varying oxygen transmission levels
affecting the way that wine develops post bottling in positive ways.
It’s almost like a religious belief for some: not open to
discussion or challenge.
even in Australia and New Zealand, many winemakers are considering
switching away from screwcaps for some if not all of their wines.
Some have already made the switch. The tin/saran liner—almost
universally the one used—allows very little oxygen transmission.
Such low levels of oxygen transmission may not suit all wines.
they recognize that while still far from being a perfect solution,
natural cork has improved greatly since the late 1990s, where its
disastrous performance—both in terms of taint and variable oxygen
transmission—was the great motivating factor in the widespread
shift towards screwcaps.
alternatives to screwcap and natural cork also have a role to play.
Diam is a technical cork, made of reconstituted cork fragments plus
a small synthetic component, and is taint free because of the
special cleaning process these cork fragments are subjected to. And
while injection-moulded synthetic corks look to be on the way out,
high quality co-extruded synthetics, of which Nomacorc is the market
leader by some distance, offer another taint-free option for wines
that benefit from higher levels of oxygen transmission.