The screwtop gets some attention–and respect
Packaging is the subject of today’s post. Lowly, decidedly non-glamorous packaging.
Reports surfaced yesterday that UC Davis researchers are “studying the performance – specifically the variability – within different types of closures.” They’re trying to determine if people can tell the difference between wines bottled in natural cork, screw caps or synthetic cork.
Notice that this study, whose conclusions are at least a year away, is not trying to answer that old question of whether wines age better, worse or just about the same in screw tops, natural or synthetic cork. To the best of my knowledge, that question remains an open one. But the UC Davis study will analyze the amount of oxidation that hits Sauvignon Blanc bottled in each type of closure. That should shed a little light on the impact of closures on longterm aging.
The news immediately went national. This morning’s HuffPo reported it, elevating it to the level of drama. “The debate as to whether traditional corks or screw craps produces a better bottle of wine — a controversial one that has divided the wine community — is about to take a scientific turn,” HuffPo said, doing exactly what a newspaper should: taking a dry-as-dust routine announcement of a new study and dubbing it “controversial” and “divisive.”
That’s good writing, my friend.
UC Davis is working on the study along with PlumpJack Winery, which has been using screwtops on some its its high-end red wines for years. This was a forward-looking move on co-owner Gavin Newsom’s part, but then, he’s always been a wonky kind of guy. Personally, as a critic who tastes more wine than the average Joe or Jill, I couldn’t care less what a wine is packaged in. If you had to smell TCA on as many corked wines as I do, you’d feel the same way. (Actually, I’m happy to admit the number of corky wines has fallen over the years. Based on my experience, I’d estimate it as 1 in every 100 bottles. But different people have different levels of sensitivity to TCA.)
The Brits, apparently, don’t much care either about how their wines are packaged, as long as it’s good. The Guardian headlined yesterday: “British wine snobs learning to love screw tops and boxes–Four in 10 wine drinkers now agree the quality of wine in a box or a pouch is as good as the bottled option.” Why the reporter called them “snobs” is beyond me.
Another British newspaper, The Mail, reported on the numbers. “Just 26 per cent of those questioned believed boxed wine was inferior to its bottled counterpart,” and “Screw-top bottles are also gaining in respectability, with just 17 per cent turning up their noses.”
These are good developments. People are learning to judge wines by the content of their character, not the type of packaging. I know, I know, the traditional cork is romantic. That Pop! as the screw extracts it from the bottle is part of wine’s charm. I doubt if the cork will ever go away, not in my lifetime. Or yours, probably, if you’re old enough to read this. But my thumbs–those marvel of evolution–are getting sore after opening more than 100,000 bottles (conservative estimate) over the course of my career. I could use a break. (But please, not synthetic corks. Hate them with a passion.)