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Corks, Screwed?

In February, Decanter ran an article claiming that Bordeaux first growth Château Margaux plans to start using screw caps on its second label, Pavillon. Though Margaux publicly announced years ago that it was experimenting with this closure, if they are indeed going forward with it, the move will lend some serious legitimacy to a bottle closure too often associated with low quality.

One of my Lot18 co-workers with a background in wine retail recently mentioned that his customers would often outright dismiss screw-cap bottles as garbage, often missing out on some incredible wines. Don’t make this same mistake. If you do just a little research – no more than with any cork-closed wine – you can get fantastic bottles from very serious producers.

While Château Margaux’s experimenting with less traditional closures would be a major step, the fact is that even without the first growth’s signoff (which would, of course, be delivered with a very large quill pen), the progress of screw caps is pretty much inevitable. Screw caps are gradually finding a place on the tops of high-quality-wine bottles, and we should all be happier for it.

Why? For one thing, there’s far less risk of a wine being ruined by certain faults, such as cork taint; cork introduces the possibility of TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) contamination, which produces a smell and taste reminiscent of wet newspaper and mold. On the other hand, some experts believe that cork benefits certain wines, especially reds, with long-term aging potential, as it allows the wine to oxygenate ever so slightly and ever so slowly. But because many wines are intended to be drunk relatively young anyway, usefulness of cork in this respect is limited and merely introduces another way a wine might be damaged. And unlike the small nightmares that are synthetic corks – an unnecessary, annoying variation on the traditional ones – screw caps actually make the business of opening a bottle easier.

Admittedly, what screw caps are missing is the romance and ritual of popping a (real) cork – it does feel more like opening a soda bottle. But that said, not having to fumble with a corkscrew, or worse yet, realizing that yours is lost somewhere in the bowels of your kitchen junk drawer, can be worth this minor sacrifice.

I’m personally optimistic about the long-term potential of the glass stoppers that are starting to gain traction in Germany – they have all the charm of a perfume bottle, are easy to open and easy to reseal – but they’re much newer to market and significantly more expensive. For the time being, however, give your well-worn corkscrew a rest and taste the exceptional quality of a few great wines that are sealed with screw caps.