The wine world has been buzzing all month over the latest issue of Wine Spectator magazine, which has finally acknowledged that not only are screw tops (aka Stelvin closures) perfectly acceptable for wine, they actually fared better than traditional and synthetic cork in terms of keeping wine fresh and ultimately drinkable.
So why'd they suddenly see the light? Because of a study conducted over a period of ten years by the Australian Wine Research Institute, which revealed that out of thousands of bottles of semillon closed with everything from natural cork to plastic, the wines sealed with a screw top actually showed the least amount of oxidation and revealed fresh, delicious flavors even after ten years of aging.
Read on to get the skinny on screw tops, once and for all.
1. Cork taint wrecks more wine than you realize. Ever wanted to impress your friends by whipping out your super-cool Rabbit wine opener and uncorking a bottle of your favorite wine, only to be greeted by an aroma not unlike grandma Ruby's basement, circa 1978? That smell is a dead giveaway that you were one sip away from drinking a "corked" wine. It's estimated that one in every case of bottles using traditional cork closures is in some way contaminated by a chemical compound known as 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA, which is commonly formed by a reaction between naturally occurring molds present in raw cork bark or in wood used for barrels. Industry reports estimate that anywhere from two to seven percent of all wines using natural cork closures are tainted by TCA. Suddenly that screw-top wine doesn't seem quite as "low end," does it?
2. Oxidation is not your friend. Oxidation is a wine term referring to the chemical reactions that take place when wine comes into contact with air. It's actually an important part of winemaking, so it's not always a bad thing: The issue here is really about uncontrolled oxidation. It's like when an apple turns all brown and nasty because it's been sitting out too long. Now imagine your wine tasting like that apple. Yeah, not so much. Stelvan closures have been proven to prevent this "bad" oxidation, which means your wine tastes better, longer.
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3. Wine producers are on board. With Australia and New Zealand leading the charge (the Kiwis claim that 90 percent of their wines use screw caps), it's looking like non-cork wine stoppers are on track to take over the market by 2015. American wine industry darlings like PlumpJack, Bonny Doon and Hogue have all adopted the Stelvan closures, which has helped to reverse the common perception that screw-tops are only for cheap, tasteless swill.
A few screw-topped wines worth checking out:
Bonny Doon Big House Red or Big House White ($10) Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($9) Screw Kappa Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($13) R. H. Phillips Toasted Head Shiraz ($16)