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Are Screwcaps Safe?

The debate over whether to use cork or screwcaps in bottling wine is marching on. You may remember I blogged about this in To Cork or Not To Cork and now a book – with the same title! – has been released by George M Taber . . . well – they do say mimicry is the source of all flattery . . .

Taber is the award-winning author of Judgement of Paris (soon to be made into a film see my blog: Keanu Reeves, Hugh Grant and Jude Law tipped for Hollywood’s Next Wine Blockbuster.

To Cork or Not To Cork: The Billion-Dollar Battle of the Bottle is published by Scribners and is scheduled to hit the book shelves this October. Taber said that he wrote the book as the argument was literally breaking up friendships and he decided to pursue the issue to find out the best solution. The book presents a comprehensive and readable account of the debate. John Intardonato at http://www.winebusiness.com/ reported on Taber’s reasons for engaging the battle:

“I got the idea while doing my book on the Paris tasting,” Taber said. “While the tasting was an accepted fact, it seemed that wine people, everywhere, wanted to talk about closures. One Australian winemaker compared the issue to the wars of religion and said some feelings are so deep, he lost friends over it.”

For two years, Taber, who reported on the pivotal 1976 Paris tasting, researched the world to find the story. He conducted over 125 interviews from California, Chile, Argentina, France, Switzerland, Germany, Portugal, Australia and New Zealand , South Africa and Spain to get his account of the debate.

In some areas, Taber believes the battle may be lost:

“In New Zealand, 95% of all closures are screw cap, and in Australia it’s 50%. The Germans and Austrians are now replacing corks in high-end wines with glass closures.”

However Taber noted that the United States is still partial to corks, using them in 80% of the wine produced.

“Americans still like the romance of the cork, and even low priced wine like “Two-Buck-Chuck” uses a cork, even if it is a one-on-one, (made of compressed ground cork, with a thin cork cap fitted on both ends).”

He added: “However, in France, Italy and Spain, and, of course, Portugal, corks are holding onto their position.” Taber said France still seals virtually all of its premium wines with cork. He also pointed out that Italy, Spain, and Portugal have laws in place that require the use of cork in high-end wines.

Taber believes the cork will survive this controversy, and remain as the world’s favourite wine closure.

“Clearly, I believe the cork is here to stay,” he said.

There are trials going on to prove which closure is best – the real acid test of cork versus the screw cap will happen in 10 years time as Chateau Margaux have laid down ten cases of Le Pavillon Rouge (their second wine) under screw cap as an experiment to reveal the truth once and for all.

Bordeaux itself has embarked on Europe’s first major trial of a natural cork closure which claims to stop cork taint in wine earlier this year.

Chateau La Dauphine in the Fronsac region agreed to bottle 300 wines under ProCork and compare them against 300 stored under natural cork. They will be tasted once a year over 10 years.

Gregor Christie, inventor and director of ProCork, says his cork uses a system of extremely fine layered polymer crystalline membranes on each end of the cork. ProCork was founded in Australia in 2002 but uses cork sourced in Portugal.

These allow oxygen in, but block the TCA molecule, the cause of cork taint in wines. Contrary to popular belief and what most publications in the media today “advertise”, TCA is present in less than 1% of bottled wines today according to several recent studies. The cork industry itself has woken up in the last few years and implemented processes that have lead to decreasing levels of tainted corks. However, few in the media are talking about this improvement. So, it is common to hear that 1 in every 10 bottles is tainted by TCA, but in reality it is less than 1 in 100 and decreasing.

Apart from the concerns over screwcaps tainting the wine themselves (see my blog The Problem With Screwcaps) there is another more pressing one: aluminium. The manufacturers of screwcaps will tell you that the wine does not come into contact with the aluminium metal and as such cannot contaminate the wine with aluminium. But were told the same for ‘lined’ aluminium drinking cans. Independent research has informed us that drinks in aluminium cans are contaminated with aluminium. For example, there is more aluminium in Coke in an aluminium can than in a glass bottle.

I know someone who had firsthand proof that lined cans can leak aluminium – in this case a hair strand was taken during a medical enquiry and an abnormally large amount of aluminium was discovered in the test results – the cause was drinking too many canned drinks as they lived abroad and could not drink the water!

We need more research done on the long term effects of screwcaps – both on humans and on the wines!

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com and www.yotophoto.com

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3 Responses to Are Screwcaps Safe?

  1. Wilf G.K says:

    Nick:
    Very good post and very informative.
    On the lighter side follow this link to what to do with all those wonderful corks. The lady who put this together is from Victoria, BC
    Cheers,
    Wilf
    http://lovemyearth.blogspot.com/2007/05/crazy-for-corks.html

  2. Peter May - The Pinotage Club says:

    Still banging the drum for those old fashioned wine tainting corks, eh Nick?

    You make a link between soft drink cans and wine screw caps? Compare the two. Are you really saying that cans have the same lining as used on a screwcap?

    Also, wine doesn’t need to touch the screwcap – there is no need to store the wine on its side, whereas the acidic liquid in cans has a much greater surface area in contact all the time.

    Amd going back to your item on sea bed wines – not ehow they aged with no air transmission.

  3. Nick says:

    Hi Peter,

    Yep still banging the drum!!!

    As for the sea bed wines – they were not supposed to age, the experiment was to see how the rolling of the tides “massaged” the wine . . . strange I know and the only similar precedent I can think of was how an enterprising shopkeeper hung a barrel of wine over his door so that it rolled when customers came in cos he was trying to turn it into Maderia before they realised what was happening to turn the wine into Maderia on the ship’s long voyages (see my blog Have Some Maderia, M’Dear).

    We humans get some odd notions in our noggins sometimes!

    Cheers

    Nick