Screw Caps: A Wine Trend That’s Here to Stay

Corks have been the preferred method of sealing wine and spirits bottles for centuries. After the Industrial Revolution replaced mouth-blown glass bottles with the cheaper machine-made versions, corks became uniform in size and even more popular. Over time, they’ve evolved to represent part of the mystique of the wine-drinking experience.

It’s no wonder then that screwcaps were immediately viewed as the red-headed stepchildren of the wine world when they first appeared. Many consumers looked down on them, associating the screwcap with subpar libations, such as Boone’s Farm, best enjoyed in convenience store parking lots. That image gradually changed as quality wine from Australia and New Zealand flooded the American market; before long, some unassuming California wineries were also adopting alternative closures.

The issue of cork taint accelerated the acceptance of the screwcap. No one seems to know exactly where this fault came from, but it rendered wine undrinkable. Napa’s PlumpJack Winery (which also owns two other esteemed properties: Odette and Cade) estimated that as many as 8 percent of wine bottles sealed with cork were ruined by taint. In 2000, PlumpJack took the radical step of bottling half of its 1997 Reserve Cabernet in screwcap and half in cork. For the first time, consumers were offered the opportunity to pay $150 for a wine with a screwcap closure, and it paved the way for other top estates to follow suit. (PlumpJack continues to bottle half of its Reserve output that way, along with a portion of its estate wine.)

The jury is still out on the question of how well screwcap wines age relative to their cork counterparts. The University of California at Davis conducted a study on 600 bottles of Cade Sauvignon Blanc, and after five years found little difference between the bottles sealed with cork, synthetic cork, and screwcap. There have been numerous informal tastings of the 1997 PlumpJack Reserve Cabernet that compare the two closures side by side after intervals of 10 to 15 years. In every case where the wines were tasted blind, participants found the screwcap version to be fresher and more vibrant.

I recently had the opportunity to sample the 2016 estate Cabernets from Cade ($110), Odette ($155), and PlumpJack ($145), all bottled under screwcap. The deeply colored, mountain-grown Cade had a fragrant nose redolent of boysenberry jam. It was rich and concentrated in the mouth, with a panorama of dark berry flavors and hints of crushed herbs. The addition of 12-percent Petit Verdot and 7-percent Malbec added to the wine’s texture and stiff tannins.

Odette, from a 45-acre vineyard in the Stags Leap district, was virtually opaque and nearly black. The cool, refreshing nose yielded whiffs of minerals, anise, black plums, and mint. Despite its fierce concentration, it was also graceful and balanced, with supple tannins and a fine herbal edge. Good acidity offset the wine’s viscous texture, and the exceptionally long finish resonated with an assortment of black fruits.
The nose of the flagship PlumpJack Cabernet was clean and fresh, with recessed aromas of dark berries and new oak. On the palate, notes of ripe blackberries mingled with mocha and baking spices. The medium-bodied texture was accented by pinpoint acidity, and the wine was an absolute pleasure to drink—far more so than many Napa Cabernets at the same or higher price.

While we don’t know how these wines will age, there’s much to recommend now. We’ve come a long way from the convenience store parking lot. «

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