Thursday, 16 September 2010

Are screwcaps just boring?

There is now debate as to whether screwcap closures are in fact greener than cork. It has been suggested that because the failure rate is much lower than cork (no cork taint) then in fact the screwcap closure avoids wine spoilage and so, even though it consumes more resources to produce in the first place, it is 'greener'. Even leaving aside that barrel taint and cork taint can be exactly the same thing, as these findings generally revolve around quantities of wine that were bottled a decade or more ago (and particularly in the New World where the systems of shipping European corks half way round the world wrapped in plastic were not conducive to high quality outcomes), it is still difficult to draw any firm conclusions. Standards in the cork industry have definitely improved substantially of late and the days of bottling vintage port or Ch√Ęteau Lafite under screwcap are still not with us. It is the imperceptibly slow oxidisation that cork allows that reaps such great rewards for the consumer - though clearly without a 100% pass rate. Screwcaps seem to allow change using the oxygen already in the bottle but not anything extra. As with many things it is balancing homogeneity against high (and sometimes low) quality that has us all squabbling.
It is often considered that this variation would not be acceptable for Baked Beans so why should it be for wine? The answer is that Baked Beans in a can would long ago have been deemed to be past their 'use by' date but, subject to the correct storage conditions, should be edible. They are unlikely to improve in quality however. Baked beans in a vacuum sealed glass jar should taste pretty much the same as on the day of production as long as the jar seal remained completely secure. Here wine has an advantage, because not only is it usually in an inert glass container but also contains alcohol as an antiseptic and preservative - so the seal to its 'glass jar' can be less secure. Subject to the correct storage conditions many cork sealed wines will get better. Not a certainty of course - they may just change, but with a judicious choice of raw material 'magic' can result. Perhaps then, we should reckon that corked wines are for fun and screwcapped wines are just for drinking?