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Closures, Technology, Wine Industry

The breathable screwcap, a pointless invention?

Wow! It has been a long time since I last posted. Since my last post, I have moved from Indianapolis to Salt Lake City – It sure does feel good to be around the mountains again. That said, I have been sitting on this post for some time now and finally got the motivation to touch it up a bit.

Croxsons UK permeable stelvin, KORKED SPIN

A while ago I was at a tasting event I came across something I had never seen before: a screwcap that could breath. Needless to say, my mind was blown. This fancy little gem comes stocked with three wholes punched in the aluminum stelvin. A permeable membrane is then inserted between the top of the cap and the inside of the bottle. This is an interesting invention given that in 2008 Decanter’s senior editorial staff declared the screwcap as the best enclosure for the vast majority of wines. There remained, however, one caveat to their proclamation: they remained skeptical about the screwcap’s ability to support a wine as it ages. This seems to be the general anxiety over screwcaps. Might this be the solution to Decanter’s worries?

Probably not.

The breathable screwcap is certainly an invention for the ages, as it spits in the faces of all those who neglected screwcaps for their inability to let a wine mature, all the while maintaining the benefit of not being infected by cork taint – an important point given that somewhere between three and five percent of wines are spoiled by it.

I am hesitant to think that people would trust a permeable screwcap with any wine that could use a few years in the cellar. I personally cannot pinpoint my mistrust. Perhaps it has something to do with the legacy cork has built, or perhaps it comes from my old soul. I don’t know. But what I do know is that if I were looking for a bottle to put in my cellar for a while and I were to see two bottles of the same wine, one had a cork and they other a permeable screw cap, I would go for the cork. Is this my subconscious telling me that the screwcap is a lesser closure device? Maybe. Were the two bottles $10-20, I probably wouldn’t care which bottle I got – as the breathability of the cap is negligible at this point and is merely a marketing ploy for those unaware that 90% of wines are meant to be consumed while young. But if I were to drop some serious cash on a wine with the intent to let it sit for a while, I am not sure I would be able to put my investment on the line with a permeable membrane slipped into a piece of aluminum with holes punched in it.

The breathable screwcap is an admirable invention, but I think it may be an invention plagued by long-lasting insecurities over the ability of the screwcap to age – whether this is scientifically accurate or not. What about you? Would you trust this new technology with your wine or are you an old soul like me? Or, better yet, at what price point are you no longer willing to gamble on new technology?

Discussion

3 thoughts on “The breathable screwcap, a pointless invention?

  1. I think us “old souls” tend to associate screw tops with the likes of Annie Green Springs and Boones Farm. Not that those are bad….just not sure they should be classified as wine. Although cheap doesn’t always mean bad, there seems to be connection between a good wine and a real cork (no plastic). Has it had more care in it’s production? Or am I just a snob?

    Posted by Jan | June 16, 2011, 11:19 am
    • Screwtops are sometimes associated with those wines, but in general over the past few years (maybe even decade) that has changed some with high-end producers in New Zealand and Australia using to screwcaps. That said, there is still something inside of me that would make me hesitate using a new technology for a high-end wine that is meant to age for, say, 7-15 years. With regards to synthetic corks, I am not entirely certain. I have not read anything on their ability to age. The choice to use them – I would guess – is economics. As far as I know they offer a good seal for that 90% that are meant to drink now, but I can’t say how they would do over time.

      Posted by Phil Handke | June 16, 2011, 11:47 am
  2. I would agree that some high-end producers have started making the switch to screwtops. I recently purchased a pinot noir produced by Erath, an Oregon winery known for their pinots. It was excellent and I was surprised by the screwtop. Since it is not on the low end of the price scale I was expecting it to have a cork.

    Has this led me to shy away from other screwtop wines? I think not.

    Posted by Gretchen | June 17, 2011, 9:31 am

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