Some of you seem shocked many wineries are now using screw cap closures instead of the more traditional cork to finish their wines. With all due respect to tradition and the desirability of using corks to seal the deal in our wine bottles, there is both a serious shortage of corks and a major problem with defective corks. I'll go into this a little later, but first I should let you know that I have conducted serious research on the subject with a group of very discerning wine drinkers.
As the founder and a charter member of the Southside Bridge Tasting Club (SBTC), I'm here to testify that what goes around truly comes around. Those of you old enough to remember my weekly wine columns in the 1980s, may recall that I asked the SBTC to act as a kind of tasting panel. The group would help me evaluate products for that segment of the wine drinking public that was -- how shall I put it -- more plebian in their tastes. Monthly, in the dead of night, I would visit the great bridge under which my expert panel would gather to sip and then critique the various wines of the time. White Pheasant, Vito's Thunder Mountain Chablis, Wild Irish Rose... nothing was too good for the SBTC!
Anyway, the wines I brought for evaluation were required by the group to meet certain minimum standards: a stratospheric alcohol content to help tasters ward off the cold and screw cap for easy access to the product. Well, here we are 20 years later and, while it is now not politically correct to discuss the relative merits of rocket-fuel enhanced beverages, there is an attempt by some wine makers to re-introduce screw caps to a whole new generation of wine drinkers.
And we're not just talking about jug wines, either. Randall Graham, that off-the-wall, existentialist wine maker at Bonny Doon who brought us the "Rhone Ranger" wines, was one of the first (screw balls) to feature screw caps on many of his 750ml bottlings. Other wineries are experimenting with screw caps as well, including more than a few in New Zealand and, shockingly, even some in France.
Why are some wineries going to screw caps? Well, it's mainly an economic decision brought on by a diminishing number of cork oak trees from which the cork is made. Actually, the corks are made from the bark of the trees - most of which grow in Portugal. With fewer trees producing, demand causes the price to rise. Add to this issue the problem of wines which are "corked." This is a phenomenon where mold gets in the cork and negatively affects the taste and smell of the wine. While a "corked" wine won't make you sick, it certainly destroys the flavor of the product.