By Doug Frost
When it comes to wine opening, the romantic “pop” of a pulled cork is being replaced by the “crack” of an untwisted screwcap. Wineries of Australia and New Zealand have led the way but more and more of the world’s wine producers are switching to screwcaps.
It’s not that corks are suddenly passé, but cork can be a breeding ground for an invisible mold called TCA. The volatile mold creates a smell like wet newspapers. Nothing harmful about the stuff, but the smell overwhelms the more evanescent character of a bottle of wine and, when you’ve paid twenty dollars for a bottle, the aroma of Tuesday’s edition left out in the rain, well, it’s not the aroma you expected.
The cork industry has struggled mightily to remove or, better yet, to prevent the growth of TCA, and there is no question that it’s far less common than five or ten years ago, when five or ten percent of all wines might have betrayed its effects. But there are still problems.
As a result, some people are championing synthetic corks, but there are more than a few critics too. Some versions require Rambo-sized brawn to remove the cork from the bottle, and I find visegrips handy when removing the cork from the corkscrew. The latest synthetics, the ones that look like a plug wrapped in panty hose, are easier to remove.
Screwcaps have their opponents as well. Some insist that screwcaps take away from the “romance” of wine. So does the smell of wet newspaper. And there’s no argument about the screwcap’s ease of use. You don’t need a special instrument (a corkscrew) to open it and it’s far easier to reclose when you want to save some for tomorrow. Some of my relatives have arthritis and can’t open wine unless it’s in a twist-off bottle. Those same relatives are ecstatic that good wine is in a screwcap bottle.
So am I. Wine is too good for people, too wholesome of character, too rich in personality, too flavorful and exciting, too healthful to be the province of the rich and the specialized. Though I wonder whether screwcaps can elevate wine to a more prominent place at the American table, I believe this – it’s a start.