Many people are quick to assume that a wine without a cork isn’t a wine of quality. But today, screw caps make up around 30 percent of the wine bottles on the market — many of which are beloved by consumers and wine professionals alike. To learn more about screw-cap wines, VinePair consulted tastings director and “Wine 101” podcast host Keith Beavers about the history of the screw cap, and why more people should reconsider their relationship with the wine key.
Screw caps are integral to modern wine preservation. While corks may be more romantic, they are susceptible to degradation and cork taint — a combination of enzymes and fungus that can ruin a wine, leaving it to taste and smell like a wet dog. While cork taint affects around 5 percent of all wines with corks, screw caps are more airtight and therefore less prone to flaws.
Screw-capped bottles provide more assurance that the wine inside them will be the same quality in a consumer’s glass as it was in the winemaker’s hands. And while there is a small chance that bacteria could be trapped by the metal, today’s bottling process is well sanitized, meaning screw-cap wine buyers can be fairly certain that their wines will taste as the winemaker intended.
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The most widely known screw cap, the Stelvin, was invented in France in the late 1960s to preserve spirits. In 1971, Australian wine company Yalumba started using those caps to avoid cork taint. Today, “screw caps are used all over the wine industry,” says Beavers. “You can bet there are fine producers using screw caps even in Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Chianti.”
But while the screw cap has gained in popularity across the world because of its practicality, it has had a grip over Oceania in particular. Currently, 70 percent of Australian wine and 90 percent of New Zealand wine is distributed with screw caps. “Consumers love Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and they don’t mind the top,” says Beavers. “So why would they mind it on any other type of wine?”
Beavers suspects some wine drinkers’ aversions to screw-cap bottles is the result of years of misleading stereotypes. “In the United States, historically, screw cap wine was stigmatized unfortunately as ‘hobo wine,’” he says. “Cheap wine with a screw cap was associated with the streets — products such as Mad Dog 20/20 and Thunderbird Wine — and therefore considered lowbrow.”
But Beavers explains that choosing a bottle closure is a huge decision for a winemaker — not a random choice. Screw caps are more affordable for winemakers, they help keep prices lower for consumers, and they are easier to open. And surprisingly, they can even age as well as wines with corks. “Any time winemakers make a staunch decision, it is a huge deal,” Beavers says. So when a winemaker chooses to use screw caps, trust them and drink up — no corkscrew required.