Category Archives: Corks/closures

Why don’t these wines have screwcaps?


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.

Bicycle pumps and screwcaps

We've run a variety of videos on the blog featuring unique ways to open a wine bottle. Oddly enough, many of the people in the videos, whether sabering a Champagne bottle, using a pliers to pull out a screw embedded in a cork, or bashing a bottle against a wall, have not been completely sober.

This video, however (courtesy of Household Hacker on YouTube) may be the best yet. For one thing, the guy opening the wine is completely sober. For another, he offers seven alternatives to a cork screw — one of which involves a bicycle pump. Frankly, that makes sabering seem almost irrelevant.

He is missing the eighth — and best — way, however. That's a screwcap, and the wine business has finally started doing studies to figure out where screwcaps works best and how to best use them. That may even be better than the bicycle pump.

Winebits 235: Wine packaging

The glass bottle may not be endangered, but more producers are opting for different formats than ever before:

Paper bottles: The world’s first paper wine bottle will likely be on British supermarket shelves in the fall, reports the drinks business trade magazine.  GreenBottle, which makes the paper product, is finalizing negotiations with a top UK grocer to sell one or two wines in the new container later this year. The bottle has a plastic coating on the inside of the box, which gives it a 9- to 12-month shelf life. GreenBottle founder Martin Myerscough says he has seen “huge interest” from retailers in Australia, California and France, and plans to expand outside of Britain in 2013.

Airline wine: Increasingly, those single-portion bottles served on airlines are made of plastic, says BeverageDaily.com. Cost-conscious U.S airlines are driving demand for the bottles, which are made from lighter, cheaper PET – an oil-based plastic called polyethylene terephthalate. PET bottles not only cost less, but are 100 percent recyclable and easier to dispose of in a cramped airplane galley.

Box wine growth: It’s impressive, reports Shanken News Daily. Two of the biggest brands, Black Box and Bota Box, sold almost 4 million cases between them in 2011. And, though overall sales for boxed wine are still only 2 percent of the U.S. market, it’s growing rapidly – 27 percent in the 52 weeks through mid-March. What makes this even more impressive is that many retailers don’t like to sell box wine, since it doesn’t fit easily on their shelves, which are designed for bottles. That’s why, in so many stores, the box wine is off in a corner.

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