Thursday, February 6, 2014

Screwcaps Are Not The Enemy. Bad Wine Is.

Like the journalistic circles lurking in the shadows of many industries, the wine writing troupe periodically recycles topics.  High alcohol levels, the value (or lack thereof) of social media in marketing, Robert Parker, the banality of bloggers, natural wines...there are probably a dozen predictable topics you see year in and year out.  This thematic incest might be the result of boredom or laziness or a desire to finally find a fresh angle (or resolution) for these oft-dusted-off headlines.


Knowing this doesn't stop me from participating in this circuit, either.  Everyone's got an opinion, and the longer the debates live on, the more entrenched those opinions become.

Screwcaps are one of those topics.  And who knew there were so many positions to hold on closures?  There are the traditionalists, who harbor that cork is part of the romance no wine drinker should be denied.  Others believe that corks serve an important purpose as an indicator of the wine having been subjected to heat spikes.  Self-proclaimed pragmatists argue that quality control lags in using organic materials (i.e. cork) to secure a chemically volatile/vulnerable liquid.  Progressives and greenies blow right past Cork v Screwcap and call for the banishment of glass altogether.  And if you want to start a fist-fight, just bring up the subject of synthetic cork!

I'm often asked about my feelings on the subject.  So, here they are.

All the aforementioned positions have merit.  But me?  I don't give a rat's ass how my wine is secured, so long as it's tasty in my mouth and stacks easily in the basement.

We drink wine for many reasons, but they all (hopefully) boil down to the fact that wine is a beverage...an elixir...a social lubricant.  Something to accompany meals, celebrations, or simply conversations.  Nowhere in the top 10 (or 20) reasons we enjoy wine does the subject of closures appear.  Taste? Sensation?  Sure.  But when was the last time you heard someone go on and on about the pleasures in the process of pulling a cork or twisting a cap?  That's right: never.  Because what matters is what's in the bottle and who's holding the glasses.

However, there is a broader concern that can't be ignored.  

The cork/screwcap debate is a proxy for tradition versus innovation.  That's really why this topic is so contentious.  If we could get wine we love in our homes for less money because of the efficiency of alternative packaging, would we scoff at it because of the way it arrived at our dinner table?  We are on the cusp of a batch of radical changes in the way wine is packaged, but change always comes at the expense of emotional attachment to the status quo.

Come on, transporting heavy glass to a bottling facility only to be transported to all corners of the world again is silly - and costly.  I applaud the innovators who are willing to risk upsetting the apple cart for the sake of casting aside waste and inefficiency.  The venerable Plumpjack winery in Napa bottled their Reserve Cabernet (today a $200 bottle) under screwcap way back in 1995 - and had the balls to charge extra for it!  Today screwcaps are commonplace - and not just for cheap wines.  Andrew Murray is all screwcap.  Tablas Creek has moved most of their production under screwcap.  The list goes on and on.  And increasingly we're seeing 3L mylar-lined boxes of wine at grocery stores.  Folks, get your mind around it.  This is the way of the future. 

It'll take longer and start at the high volume end of the spectrum, but someone smart is soon going to come up with a sexy way to deliver wine that consumers won't cringe at.  And that's something to look forward to.  Unless you're in the glass business.

Salute!

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