Lately I’ve encountered a number of wines sealed with screw-top caps rather than corks, probably because I’m deliberately drinking mostly $15-and-under wines these days. But price along with provenance are becoming less and less predictive of a given wine’s use of cap or cork.
Nearly all the South African wines I’ve tried recently employ screw caps. Many Australian and New Zealand producers have switched to caps as well.
Even the French are evolving! At Amanda’s Restaurant in Hoboken the other night, our 2010 Matrot Bourgogne Blanc was capped. The wine was delicious but we couldn’t help feeling that the quick twist of the wrist by our server sapped all the romance out of the bottle-opening ceremony.
A few wine regions are sure to resist the growing move to caps. You won’t find a Rioja that is not bottled with a natural cork, thanks to Spanish law requiring use of natural corks in order to secure D.O. status. (Spain, a major cork producer, in recent years has surpassed Portugal to become the world’s largest producer of cork.)
We’ve heard the arguments, cap versus cork, including the fact that corks (natural as well as synthetic) can break down, causing oxidation and other spoilage of bottle contents; that caps are cheaper and easier to use but may not engender graceful aging of fine wines.
The technical debate may get partially settled by a study now underway at UC-Davis. Natural cork-, synthetic cork- and cap-sealed bottles of 2011 CADE Sauvignon Blanc are being monitored – and tasted! – for oxidation and other chemical changes. Results are due out the end of this year. Even so, the question of how metal caps influence long-term cellaring may need continued investigation.
For me, caps are fine but I expect I’ll always prefer the satisfying pull and pop of natural cork.