But when it comes to wine, snobbery may play a bigger role than you’d expect in the determination of which method is greener.
The Caymus Conundrum
Conundrum is easily one of my favorite wines. But, until recently, I had not purchased a bottle in quite some time. Eager to get home to Mr. Lite Green and a delicious glass full, I didn’t bother to examine the bottle carefully. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that the usual cork had been replaced with a screw top. I was non-plussed. (I have always wanted to use that word in a sentence. Thankfully, it really fits here.) I’ve never considered myself a snob, but this incident shook me. I may just be a snob after all. A wine snob, that is.
Conumdrum can be pricey (a bottle of 2005 Napa Valley Caymus Conundrum checks in at about $60.00) But it doesn’t have to be (a respectable bottle of Caymus Conundrum 2007 will only set you back about $17.) But any bottle of wine seems cheap when you have to snap the top off. When that wonderful “pop” of the wine cork is replaced with a sound something like opening a bottle of Coke, it’s disappointing. You feel like you’re drinking a bottle of Annie Green Springs.
In spite of the off-putting screw cap, the Conundrum was as delicious as I remembered and completely gone by the time dinner was finished.
But the incident did make me stop to consider both the elitist notion that wine in a screw top bottle is cheap and easy, and whether or not the screw top made sense from an environmental perspective.
Would you drink wine from a bottle with a screw cap? If you’ve bought a bottle of wine lately, you may have noticed that more than a few wineries have replaced natural cork with a screw top. The idea has met with mixed reviews from consumers. But within the wine producing community, screw tops are gaining popularity.
Screw caps on wine bottles are not a new idea. Screw caps were originally developed in the 1970s for use with cheap wines, but failed to take off. The seal has been successfully updated for today’s market.
Screw top sales have doubled in the past two years, predominantly in New Zealand and Australia, but French wine growers in areas of Bordeaux, Alsace and Bourgogne, are taking a look at screw top wine closures.
Why Give Up The Cork
The major reason for the shift from cork to metal screw tops is the high amount of wine that is being contaminated by cork taint or TCA, in recent years. Cork taint leaves an unpleasant odor and a musty taste behind. Cork is the chief, but not not the only cause of tainted wine. TCA can flourish in several areas of a bottling facility, including drains and barrels, too.
According to Wine.com, this unpleasant phenomenon spoils an estimated 1 in 10 bottles produced. And the cork industry has been very slow to respond to winemakers’ demands for quality. As a result, screw tops have gained popularity. Switzerland already bottles more than 15 million wines with screw tops annually, along with New Zealand and Australia where the screw top is almost exclusively used. This year, the United States will bottle an estimated ten million wines with screw tops.
But there is another consideration, according to VintageCellars.com. Winemakers themselves may be the most favorable to the change over to the screw cap method. Screw caps are, in fact, a money saving device for wineries, considering the $4 billion per year spent on capping wines.
Aluminum screw tops are also recyclable. And while cork is recyclable for other uses, (check out recork.org for some ideas) it is not generally reused for bottling purposes.
Put A Cork In It
Cork is a natural, renewable, resource, and is viewed as the preferred method — both from an environmental and traditional perspective. But cork is also a scarce commodity. There are only about 300,000 cork oak trees in the world, and all cork comes from these trees. And although cork has been harvested in about the same way, by roughly the same families for the last 3,000 years, increased wine production has put a strain on a once sufficient resource. Suppliers are finding it difficult to find adequate supplies of good quality cork. This has lead to the increase of cork taint, and put a further strain on an already dwindling supply.
I’ve heard arguments against giving up the cork on grounds of the environmental impact that it would have in regions where cork is harvested. Preservation of wildlife habitat, local industry, etc, have all been pointed to as reasons to keep using cork. But the main argument in the cork vs screw top debate is over the issue of aging. Cork allows the wine breathe, aluminum screw tops do not. And because no one is certain how screw caps will react after long periods of time, screw caps could be a costly mistake for collectors. There have been a few incubation experiments, but the results were mixed. So, at least for now cork is still the preferred method for wine makers and wine lovers alike.
The Snob Factor
Screw caps may indeed be a more reliable way to seal wine, eliminating the chance of cork taint. But many argue that screw tops mess with tradition and atmosphere. And atmosphere is everything with wine.
Look, wine is an organic, breathing substance. It naturally changes over time. It’s influenced by its environment and the skill of those who handle it. So which method of wine capping is more environmentally friendly? That may well depend on your perspective. And your prejudices.
Do you have an opinion on cork versus screws? Weigh in here.
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