by Sarah Shotwell
Over a decade ago, New Zealand producers pioneered the use of screw caps on their fantastic white wines. But when screw-capped bottles started showing up on the tasting lists and menus of quality establishments here in America, the whole idea seemed suspect to some wine drinkers. Wine has long been about tradition, and old school etiquette, ritual, and social expectations seem to linger a bit longer here than in other industries. Uncorking a bottle of wine has been a oenological custom since the late 17th Century, when the rise of global exports demanded more stable packaging. (Before then, wine was apparently stopped up with oil-soaked rags.) When screw caps showed up, rendering the corkscrew obsolete, skeptics were puzzled by this break from form. Others were concerned about quality.
Despite consumers’ initial hesitation to embrace this new mentality, screw caps are here, and they aren’t going anywhere soon! The reasons for this are as driven by winemaker preference as they are by consumer convenience. Some winemakers cite quality control, cost, reduced spoilage, air-tight seals, and taint prevention among the top reasons they prefer screw caps to natural cork. Now, even high-end red wines are trying on this packaging phenomenon. Change may be hard, but evolution is necessary in an art form like winemaking, which goes back 10,000 years. Throughout history, wine has been closed and stored in hundreds of creative and culturally distinct ways. No matter of how we close up the wine or store it, be it with rags or corks, in glass, cardboard boxes, clay jars, iron flagons, or deer hide wineskins, the packaging is meant only to be a vessel for the treasure contained inside.