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To Screw Cap or Not to Screw Cap?

February 02, 2022 by Antone Boustani

This accompanying table offers a remarkable snapshot of the closures used for the table wines submitted this year. Those who suggest that screwcaps are inferior to other closures are clearly out of step.

The apologists for cork are alive and well outside Australia and (largely) New Zealand, including some – such as Jamie Goode – who should know better. Those apologists talk of it being a natural product (correct, and that means no two corks are precisely the same) and of the much reduced – though not eliminated – incidence of cork taint. The latter point is correct, simply because the Portuguese realised they had to completely change the manufacturing process or lose their market forever.

However, the defenders of cork ignore the elephant in the room – the issue of sporadic (random) oxidation, which remains as big a problem as ever. Ask the Hunter Valley winemakers who held semillon in perfect storage conditions for five years before releasing it. Brokenwood, McWilliam’s and Tyrrell’s all say a third of the b tles with cork closures showed accelerated colour development, which correlated precisely with unacceptable oxidation. Moreover, having cleared the remaining two thirds, the same problem may reoccur, although with a lower failure rate.

Nor is the problem limited to Australian white wines. Makers of white Burgundy have had a torrid time since the second half of the 1980s. Thus American author Bill Nanson in his excellent book The Finest Wines of Burgundy (Fine Wine Editions, 2012) says in his vintage chart: “The pervasive influence of oxidised bottles renders this period (1994 to 2004 inclusive) a complete lottery. Spend only what you can afford to lose.”
While I have referred to semillon, all Australian white wines sealed with corks are prone to oxidation. So are reds, although it takes longer, affects fewer bottles and is not as obvious. The British wine trade recognised the issue 80 years ago with the saying: “There are no great old wines, only great old bottles.”

Finally, if you have a cellar as large as ne (and as neglected), there is the small matter of outright failure of corks leading to the slow or not-so-slow loss of wine from the bottle, leaking all over those beneath it, and on to the floor. Do I hate corks? You bet
Penfold’s chief winemaker does not believe screwcaps are the future of closures, at least in the higher end of the market, revealing that the company is now investigating glass as the best alternative to cork for some of its bottles.

All of Penfolds’ white wines have been under screwcap since 2004, with screw-capped wines stretching back to 1971 providing a solid base for comparing their development. However its red wines are still closed with a mixture of cork, synthetic cork and screwcaps.

Gago said his main issue with screwcaps for red wines was not necessarily the ageing of the wines, as this has not yet been thoroughly tested over time, (the oldest Penfolds wine under screw cap dates from the late 1990s), but the fact that using a screwcap masks the impact of heat damage.
The main thing I am against is heat damage,” said Gago, speaking to the drinks business at Penfolds’ re-corking clinic in London last week. “A red wine under screwcap looks perfect. It might have been at 50 degrees for four weeks but you would never know. A lot of people want to cut costs and there are companies that are moving it and selling it off. These people aren’t paying for refrigerated transport and at the other end the wine is still zapped but you can’t tell with a screwcap.”

Generally, a weeping cork suggests exposure to intense heat, as does a lifted capsule due to the cork being pushed up with internal thermal expansion. These clues to heat damage are concealed when using a screwcap.
With the TCA problem “partially solved”, Gago said there had been a move back to cork at the top end, noting that examples of TCA in cork were now down to around 1% – about the same proportion of wines oxidised due to mechanical damage of screwcaps.

Its flagship Grange remains a 100% cork release, as do the majority of its top end red wines, with some of its red Bin releases under screwcap. However commenting on the range of closures now available Gago revealed that Penfolds was currently looking at using glass for some its wines.

I don’t think screwcap is the future,” said Gago. “We are looking at glass. True glass to glass, that’s what we are working on. In the interim, screwcaps for our whites and corks for many reds and some screwcaps.”

Re-corking clinic turns 25
Gago made the comments at Penfolds’ re-corking clinic in London last week, an initiative which this year turns 25 and seeks not only to maintain the wines of collectors, but remove faulty, and sometimes fake, wines from the system.

Available free to any Penfolds wine over 15 years, the team will assess, re-cork and advise attendees on the best drinking windows, re-cork their wine to extend its longevity and, when necessary, pull it out of the system completely.

While many are consumers seeking to ensure their wines are still drinkable for their personal consumption, many clients are seeking to sell their wines, making the assessment by Gago’s team all the more important, policing both bad wines and potentially fake wines.

We are not just there to just put new corks into old bottles, we are removing bad wines from the system,” he said. “Penfolds 1962 Bin 60a, hailed by James Halliday as “the best red of the 20th century”, is a bottle that always raises a more inquisitive assessment,” said Gago.

These bottles aren’t plateauing but are on the ascent,” he said. “The problem is you don’t know which are the good bottles. This was a wine that was never commercially sold. We had 485 cases made. Some ended up in Parliament house. These are the few that you see about at auctions. But it can be a pretty amazing experience if you get to taste an untravelled, well kept bottle.”

Three bottles of 60a came into the clinic in Sydney, which Gago said “looked a bit too good” which were ultimately removed from the system.

I asked Steve (Lienert, Penfolds senior red winemaker ) for a second opinion. He tasted it and said ‘no you cant accept that’. Three bottles were gone. They leave with a plain cork, no capsule and no certificate. They can try and sell that bottle but who is going to buy it? Sometimes they leave the bottles behind.”

Ultimate wine “health-check”
Penfolds is the only winery in the world to offer its collectors a wine ‘health-check’ and after sales service, with the pop-up Penfolds Re-corking Clinic this year travelling from Sydney and Melbourne to London, the US and Canada.

Founded in 1991, Gago’s team has now assessed some 130,000 bottles of wine, with collectors given the opportunity to have their 15+ year old bottles visually inspected, then opened (if necessary), assessed, topped-up, certified and re-capsuled – thereby preventing any further deterioration due to leakage and low levels and adding to the investment potential.

It also allows collectors a rare opportunity to engage with the wine’s creator, learn more about their wine and discuss optimum drinking windows and cellaring recommendations. An expert from leading international auction house Christie’s is always on hand for fine wine collection investment consultations.

Storing wine is a passion of Kennards Self Storage. Kennards Storage has purpose built wine storage cabinets in temperature controlled environment that is accessible 24 hours a day. Wine storage can be easy to organise. Self storage is great because you get your own space and there are no lock in contracts meaning you only pay for the days used. The quoted amount is for a one month period. Pay for that period and then get a refund for the days not used if you move out before months end. This pro-rata amount is calculated to the day you finish. Kennards moving boxes range includes the wine storage box which carries 12 Bottles of wine and fits the wine storage cabinet perfectly.

Visit Kennards Self Storage here and you will find a very easy to use Website.

Here you are able to view prices and sizes. You can then reserve or rent a space at a location near you with in a couple of clicks. From there you can then purchase wine storage boxes and get them delivered to your home or office. Pack your wine and then bring them to your storage space.

If you purchase wine online, get them delivered to your Kennards Storage facility and we will accept the delivery on your behalf and then contact you so that you can pick them up. No more wine sitting at your front door waiting for you to come home.

How to store open red wine is only a problem if you let it be. There are solutions to all problems. Kennards Self Storage has decades of experience in providing storage solutions to the casual drinker, the wine collector and businesses like wine importers and restaurants.

Kennards Self Storage – Creating the Space for Change

Antone Boustani

Antone joined the Kennards Self Storage in 2012 as a Team Support Manager. Progressing to the roles of NSW Rostering Co-ordinator and Waterloo Centre manager led to the position of NSW Operations Manager in 2019. Antone has gained leadership skills at previous roles as a Manager at KFC and Decorug and did run his own business a Deli / Fruit shop called Naremburn Natural. He loves that we are the people that care and how that is achieved through procedures that enable our teams to offer great customer service. He is invested in improving himself and the team around him and believes that doing what you love is the key. Outside work Antone loves travelling overseas as much as getting on the open road and you can find him watching any type of sport but especially cricket.

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