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11 April 2006

History, Screwed

Stelvin_1 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)

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Screw Caps are the shizzle. Suckas better recognize.


I went to a tasting with Peter Gogo (head winemaker at Penfolds) and what they are doing with Grange, as well as with all their top bottlings, is to put a small percentage of the production under screwcap. They will do a comparative tasting after 10 years, then 15, then 20 and if they see no discernable difference, then they will go to the screwcap.

The tasting was to compare recent vintage of their top wines with the same bottling at least 10 years old and the only one that gained anything was teh St. Henri climate, french oak. Figured I would take a cheap shot at the NWorldies while the forum is there. Ah, now I feel better. Get me a Miller.

Cam Wheeler

If St Henri is cool climate, then I am something equally unrealistic. ;)

There were actually some statistics published last year by the AWRI from a 3 year trial that said that screwcaps actually allow a similar amount of air ingress to corks that provide the best seal. Here is a quote from Tyson Stelzer (screwcap advocate);

"In a trial of the technical performance of various wine closures conducted by the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), the oxygen permeation through the closure was measured approximately three years post-bottling. The measurements revealed that 45mm reference 2 corks permitted between 0.0001 and 0.1227mL of oxygen to enter the bottle per day, with an average of 0.0179mL. By comparison, screw caps permitted 0.0002 to 0.0008mL, with an average of 0.0005mL."

Just look at the variation with between corks that are supposedly of the same type, whereas the Stelvin seal was very consistent.

I personally don't think screwcaps are perfect, they have some problems of their own like instances of reductive characters and I've seen that bumps during transport can actually break the seal and cause leakage.

Diam looks promising as well as some of the other alternate closures.

The future might not be screwcaps, but whatever the future is is, it certainly isn't natural cork.


sourced from cooler climate, at least that's what Peter said... and while the St. Henri is most definitely Australian, it is the most restrained of the bunch, and the one which did benefit the most from aging. Why, the burgundy tonneaus, the juice, I don't know.
In terms of the closure, I am with you on this...cork taint sucks and we should keep on looking for better alternatives. I liek the Penfolds approach of testing the wines as they age, pitting one closure versus the is the only way.

Cam Wheeler

Cooler climate I can accept. I guess since it is a multi-region blend some vintages have more cool climate fruit than warm.

Weren't there trials of a first growth under screwcap in the 70's or 80's over a period of time? Can't remember the exact details though. Maybe someone else can fill in the gaps.

Cam Wheeler

Found an article by James Halliday that very briefly mentions a trial run of 1969 Haut Brion under screwcap that was then tasted 9 years later as well as some other screwcap moments in history here


Thanks for the link - lots of good info.

S Andrews

Screw caps - I used to hate them. I used to think it took the romance out of opening a bottle of wine. However, over recent years, I really can see the benifits of the screwcap. It keeps the wines fresh, can be put back in the fridge without the worry of it leaking and if you just fancy a glass or two, then the rest of the bottle is pretty safe for tomorrow. Corks - there is always a risk of getting the bottle home and once opened, its been ruined or tainted by the cork closure.

Commercial Tanning Beds

I hate screw caps... who would have thought

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I went to a tasting with Peter Gogo (head winemaker at Penfolds) and what they are doing with Grange, as well as with all their top bottlings, is to put a small percentage of the production under screwcap. They will do a comparative tasting after 10 years, then 15, then 20 and if they see no discernable difference, then they will go to the screwcap.

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