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August 15, 2009

I want to start a series of posts which will be instructive in nature and the first will be a simple but misunderstood topic: Bottle Closures.

It may not be glamourous but it is very important. Currently there are three major closures: cork, synthetic corks and screw caps.

Cork is the “traditional” seal. Cork is harvested from cork trees, cleaned, processed, formed and sent to the wineries. This closure has many issues: failure, bottle taint, and cost.

Corks fail often, how many have you broken, pushed in, found leaking, or on that old stored bottle you have saved found the cork soggy and crumbled? It just doesn't work well, BUT people perceive quality with cork and cork breathes allowing the wine to age….yes it fails by leaking air but in this case its a good thing.

Bottle Taint is known as “corked” and is a result of the cleaning of the cork. A chemical TCA sometimes is left over and this stuff ruins wine and at a rate of 5-10% it just is too big a risk to me. If you had a bottle that smelled of wet cardboard, you had it and wonderfully the smell gets worse as it gets air….just wonderful.

Cost is a problem. A good cork costs almost 40 cents and that is more than twice the cost of synthetic. The cheaper ones are not good so what do you do???

Synthetic corks are really neat. No bottle taint, very rare failures, consistent and are cost effective. Now they can be had with slight air permeability which allows the wine to breathe. You can order the permeability to allow the wine to age at a rate you control…cork is variable. They pop when they are pulled, look like cork, are cheap, but they lack the cachet of cork.

Screw caps are now gaining popularity . All New Zealand wine is in screw caps and it is gaining in Australia. It will be the closure in the future in all but really high end wine. We had a really good Pinot from Otega (New Zealand) and I wasn't put off with the screw cap…I actually like it.

The don't need tools, are easily re-sealed, don't get corked BUT there is an issue. They don't breathe (as of yet but I bet that is coming) so there can be reductive notes…..dead, rotten tastes…yummy.

All the closures have pluses and minuses, but if I ran a winery I would never use cork. It's too expensive, inconsistent and I just would avoid the “corking” issue. The synthetic would be my choice. Cost effective consistent and no “Corking” .

So don't worry how you winemaker has sealed the wine. There are choices the made. Some feel that the MUST use cork, some like cork, but play with synthetic, some see synthetic as the Holy Grail (allowing them to control aging and know when the wine will be ready) and most see screw caps as a non issue due to implied cheapness (it also needs a special bottling line btw) . So drink and be happy and don't worry about the closure.

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