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Category Archives: Corks/closures

Consumers appreciate screwcaps more than we know

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screwcaps

Screwcaps and fireplaces? Yes, there’s a link.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s long battle for screwcaps has had its ups and downs, and I’ll admit I get discouraged. It’s difficult enough tasting as much bad wine as I do, but when you have to struggle with a cork first? Talk about hitting yourself in the head with a brick and not knowing enough to stop.

Still, there have been bright spots despite the backlash against screwcaps over the past several years, be it chatting with the Doon Master or this, from someone who appears to be a 29-year-old, fairly ordinary wine drinker who wasn’t even talking about wine at the time:

The worst part of it is, I’m burning [wood in a fireplace] not for heat, but for aesthetics. It’s like, ‘Wait, this is actually pretty hypocritical.’ It’s very similar to the idea of a cork in a wine bottle instead of a screw top.

Thank you, Ryan Matzner of New York City. And a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Vivian Yee of the New York Times, who was savvy enough to recognize a great quote when she heard one. That’s newspapering the way it’s supposed to be done.

The $300 Coravin question

wine news coravin
The $300 Coravin question

Even after the Coravin, sealed like new.

Coravin is the new, hip, and incredibly well-reviewed corkscrew that lets you open a bottle of wine without taking out the cork. As such, it is as revolutionary as the company says. But it’s the $300 Coravin question that remains unanswered: Is it necessary to spend that much money on a wine gadget?

Make no mistake: the Coravin does what it says it does. Shasha Dotras (that’s her in the photo) impressed almost everyone who saw her demonstrate the opener recently at Pogo’s in Dallas. The hollow needle, which has a hole in the sharp end, pushes through the cork, argon gas is fed into the wine, the wine flows through the needle, and the opener’s handle works like a spigot. Pull the needle out, the argon gas fills the empty space, and the cork expands to fill the hole left by the needle. The wine remains mostly as fresh as before the Coravin.

But is that it works enough? If it costs $300, then it had better be worth $300 worth of wine, be they 30 bottles of $10 wine or three bottles of $100 wine (and that doesn’t include $11 each for the argon capsules). And that’s a difficult standard for any gadget to meet.

Further complicating the price/value discussion is that most of us don’t need the Coravin. There are four glasses in a bottle of wine. I open a bottle at dinner, and I have two glasses and the person with me has two glasses. When are we going to use the Coravin? And most people who don’t finish a bottle are more than happy to replace the cork or screwcap, put the bottle in the fridge, and drink the rest later. The idea that oxidation exists and could spoil their wine is something only wine snobs worry about.

So who would benefit from the Coravin? Professionals who taste a lot of pricey wine one glass at a time, but that can hardly be a market big enough to make a difference. Maybe there’s demand for a restaurant version, though given the level of training at most restaurants, breakage would probably make the Coravin prohibitively expensive.

This leaves everyone who has a cellar stuffed full of expensive wine, has lots of money to spend on gadgets, and sees wine as something to collect and not necessarily drink — probably less than five percent of the U.S. wine drinking population. In other words, the Winestream Media’s typical wine drinker. Which no doubt explains this. And this.

In this, the Coravin may well be to wine what the granite counter top is to home renovation — it sells well and is really nice to have, but isn’t going to make dinner any easier cook or taste any better. Which answers the $300 Coravin question for me.

Why don’t these wines have screwcaps?

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scewcapsThe Wine Curmudgeon has been tasting mostly red wine this month, and especially cabernet sauvignon, in an effort to get more wines that I don’t normally drink on the blog. Quality, even around $10, has been surprisingly good, but there has been one major disappointment. Not only do most of the wines have corks instead of screwcaps, but they come in heavy, old-fashioned bottles.

Which raises the question, which I’ve raised before and which is worth raising again: Why don’t these popularly-priced wines use screwcaps and come in lighter bottles? That would make the wines less expensive to produce, lower their carbon footprint, increase profit, and even possibly lower cost. And neither would affect quality.

Consider: The bottle for a 2003 white Burgundy — about as high end as wine gets — weighs 22 ounces and is closed with a cork. The bottle for the $5 Rene Barbier wines, closed with a screwcap, weighs 14 ounces. Yet most of the producers whose wines I’ve tasted use some kind of cork and unnecessarily heavy bottles, often closer to the white Burgundy than the Barbier. Some examples:

• The $11 Pigmentum malbec from France, 19 ounces, artificial cork.

• The $12 Errazauriz cabernet sauvignon from Chile, 15 ounces, screwcap. Ironically, the producer recently changed bottles, cutting the weight by 12 1/2 percent. Otherwise, it would be 17 ounces.

• The $12 Josh Cellars cabernet sauvignon from California, 22 ounces, natural cork.

• The $16 Bonterra zinfandel from California, 23 ounces, artificial cork. The irony? That Bonterra is one of the best selling green wine brands in the country.

• The $17 Downton Abbey claret from France, 19 ounces, natural cork.

In these cases, sadly, appearance is all. The Downton Abbey is the most obvious example, but even the others work from the assumption that consumers expect quality wine to come in heavy bottles with some kind of cork. We can argue forever about screwcaps vs. corks, but the one thing that isn’t in debate is that screwcaps are perfectly acceptable for most of the wine we drink. And there is absolutely no debate about the bottle. This isn’t 1890, when bottle weight mattered, protecting the wine from the perils of 19th century shipping. Lighter weight, given today’s bottle technology, is just as effective. Fifty million cases of Two-buck Chuck are proof of that.

Obviously, what’s in the bottle matters most. At some point, though, the bottle and closure itself is going to matter, whether producers believe it or not.

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