Reporting FromThe Unified Grape & Wine Symposium: Screwcap Versus Cork, Is The Debate Already Over?
I've covered the screwcap versus cork debate on this blog a number of times (yes, there are other closures but in the end it really does come down to these main two). In my thoughts on natural cork, I've wondered about cork taint, pondered the implicit romantic nature and the history of the cork and made my peace with the fact that some damn fine wines can come out of a screwcap bottle.
There is one thing I didn't consider which I realized during the Unified Grape & Wine Symposium panel on Closures which is that I might not even be able to recognize cork taint in small percentages and that in some cases it might not be such a big deal. Knowing that 2 to 5% of bottles get hit with a bit of TCA (the stuff that causes the musty, moldiness known as cork taint) averages would indicated that I have opened many tainted bottles. And yet I can only remember a few cases in which I was certain the wine was corked. I think I know what cork taint is but I may actually have no idea at all.
With a bit of a twinkle in her eye, she recounted the story of a winery she had worked with which had a TCA problem in a small amount. Wine Spectator discovered the problem and reported on it. The winery feared that they would never sell the vintage. But because the levels were so low the consumers actually bought it and enjoyed it anyway (you can read more about this story here). Norris says that this may be because wine critics evaluate wine as the sum of its parts were as we, the consumers tend to look at it more as a whole simply evaluating whether we like it or not. Could the wine industry be trying to fix a problem that really doesn't concern consumers much?
Whether or not cork taint is a huge issue for consumers, wineries do seem to be moving steadily toward the screwcap. Australia and New Zealand have embraced the screwcap and other closures as well as alternative packaging such as box wine. In the U.K. the popular stores are filled with screwcap bottles. While data shows that the U.K. and U.S. are becoming more open to other closures, France still prefers the cork. It seems inexorably that this is the way the industry is heading for the most part.
And yet most of us still have some screwcap bias even if we have partially embraced the new closures. Jane Rochicaud of Tragon Corp. presented research that shows that for those spending more money (over $15 per bottle) getting a natural cork in the bottle was important. People also seem more open to screwcaps in white wine than in red wine. Also, we may be content to drink screwcapped wine every day, if we are celebrating or giving the wine away we want the cork, the perception still being that cork equals fancy.
In the end, does it really matter what the consumer wants or thinks they want? Paige Poulos, who runs a PR agency that consults with wineries, says no. She believes that as more and more respected high-end wineries make the switch, the wine drinker will get the message that screwcap is where it is at. As was pointed out by a member of the audience, wine is one of the few consumables that people feel like they have to have an education to enjoy. The consumer isn't consulted when other industries decide to make packaging changes. It seems that in the matter of cork versus screwcap, the wine industry seems to have already decided. It just remains for the consumer to come to terms with the decision. I did notice that at ZAP most of the Zinfandel was closed with natural cork, leading me to believe that some smaller producers may be wary of switching over to screwcap because of concerns over aging and over how their wines are perceived in the marketplace.