Thanks to Cam of Appellation Australia for providing more details on boutique Aussie wines with screw-caps. He also provided a link to Yalumba winery's screw-cap history. In 1970, Yalumba employed its first screw-cap. It was something called the 'Stelcap.' The Stelvin (producer of most of today's screw-caps) came along in 1976. Somewhat ironically, the Stelvin closure was designed by a French company - Le Bouchage Mechanique. While 70's consumers embraced velour, shag and disco; they were a bit more apprehensive when it came to screw-capped wines (i.e. they weren't buyin 'em). Yalumba shelved it's screw-caps until the 2000 vintage. Yalumba's winemaker maintains that screw-caps are the shizzle:
"It offers the perfect environment, providing consistency and not allowing oxygen to influence the wine."
There's the rub. While I love that screw-caps will prevent a smelly, frustrating corked wine situation, I'm somewhat apprehensive that hermetically sealing wine will slightly alter the ageing process. Cork is semi-porous, thus allowing some oxygen to make contact with wine as it matures. Of course, 90-plus percent of wines aren't really aged - they're made for drinking now. But what about wines such as Barolo or old school Rioja that are traditionally aged several years prior to release? I wonder if the discerning Penfolds enthusiast could tell the difference between two 10-year old bottles of Grange - one under cap, the other with cork? Of course, were the following to happen, the difference would be dreadfully obvious:
"The group of people I was with at dinner on Saturday certainly enjoyed the romance of pouring $600 odd worth of two corked bottles of wine (one '72 Grange and one '86 Mount Mary) down the drain." (email exchange with Cam Wheeler)