Screwcap is not the only answer

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Related tags: Closure, Bottle

FIONA SIMS Now, I know many of you are still getting your heads around the screwcap. Its presence in the on-trade is increasing significantly year on...


Now, I know many of you are still getting your heads around the screwcap. Its presence in the on-trade is increasing significantly year on year largely as a result of the suppliers who are encouraging producers to embrace it, with end users mostly positive about its easy-going nature and complaint-free service no more, 'er, is this wine supposed to smell like wet cardboard?

Most wine writers, too, are trumpeting the screwcap, continually frustrated by unacceptably high levels of cork taint and failing to be turned on by other forms of closure.

It's not just entry-level wines that are bottled under screwcap, either there are some pretty fancy wines out there that you can open with a bit of wrist action. And it's not only the Aussies and Kiwis who are doing it screwcapped wines are turning up from all over the world. Even Chablis producer Michel Laroche is giving it a go.

Ensuring best practice

There's even a new book about screwcaps. Aussie wine writer Tyson Stelzer has written Taming the screw: A manual for winemaking with screwcaps to ensure best practice, since lack of knowledge about the closure could damage the reputation of both the producers and the screwcap, he reckons.

Next year, nearly 90% of Australia's wines will be sealed under screwcap, while in New Zealand, this figure has increased from 1% in 2001 to a staggering 70% in 2004.

But the closure debate at this year's London International Wine & Spirits Trade Fair, held in London recently, turned up a serious contender to the screwcap throne cue Diam.

While many agree the screwcap is currently the best closure for young wines, it's not perfect. Some wines sealed under screwcap display a 'reduced character resulting from the presence of sulphur compounds (known as 'reduction), while other critics grumble that screwcaps can mute the fruit.

Doubters are predicting that this huge shift to screwcaps is premature what do we really know about how wines develop under screwcaps, or how often reduction defects are found in screwcapped wines? 'They're jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, declared flying winemaker John Worontschak at the debate, who would rather use a natural or plastic cork any day.

The Diam closure, made by French company Sabate, may have the answers. First, it looks like a cork and it is, indeed, a cork-based closure. Yet it is not plagued by cork taint or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, to give it its proper name.

Sabate worked closely with the French Atomic Energy Commission's gloriously named Fluids and Membranes Laboratory to develop the patented Diamant process, which extracts these unwanted molecules from the raw cork.

Second, being cork-based, it's more environmentally friendly than the metal-lined screwcap. The signs so far are good seven years (and E30m) in the making, Diam is now gearing up for mass production.

Impressed by the freshness

So who is convinced? Says French heavyweight Maison Louis Jadot, which has been regularly monitoring the closure's progress against other alternatives: 'We've been impressed by the freshness of the wines, the intensity of the aromas and the lack of bottle-to-bottle variation. And Sainsbury, which uses the Diam closure on some of its lines, claims it hasn't heard a single grumble from customers.

But before you start demanding that your supplier hand over Diam-stoppered bottles, most at the debate agreed that it's good to have a choice of closures. Former M&S wine buyer turned winemaker Sam Harrop, MW, says: 'I believe there's no one closure around right now. But that doesn't mean we should stop looking for the ultimate closure we never should.

Related topics: Wine

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