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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.

Winebits 284: Wine prices, wine bottles, soft drinks

Too many grapes? During the wine price panic a couple of years ago, the wise guys kept mumbling that there weren’t enough wine grapes planted in California, and that, psst, I’ve got a deal for you if you want to buy some vineyard land. That wasn’t necessarily the case then, and it’s probably not today, either. The president of one of the biggest grape grower trade groups says the number of acres in production could be 25 percent higher than the official figures. If true, this would explain why prices never took off, even after the so-called short harvests in 2010 and 2011. And it would also explain why production rebounded so quickly to a record in 2012. And, for those of us who care about wine prices, it also means they aren’t going up any time soon.

Do we really need glass? No less than the pre-eminent British wine writer Jancis Robinson asks this question, wondering “why we need a material as heavy, fragile and resources-hungry as glass for everyday wine, wine that is consumed within months of being bottled.” Why not juice boxes and pouches? Good questions all, but ones that overlook the role of tradition in the wine business. Screwcaps are not new, and are cheaper and more efficient than corks. But most wine is still closed with corks, and for no other reason than that’s the way it has always been done.

Rot those teeth: The Wine Curmudgeon does not drink soft drinks, dating from my days as a young reporter who wrote a story and learned that Coke, Pepsi, and the rest are among the most nutritionally bankrupt foods on the planet. So I was not surprised to see this study, which claims that diet soft drinks rot teeth like cocaine and meth. The story that describes the study doesn’t go into much detail about how it was conducted, and I’m curious why only a handful of women were studied, but it does make great reading and something to point out to those who tell me I drink too much wine. And why my teeth are in such good shape.

Five things the wine business can do to help consumers figure out wine

Five things the wine business can do to help consumers figure out wineWine is still too confusing, though some effort has been made over the past several years to make it easier for wine drinkers – new and experienced – to understand what’s going on. Check out this newspaper article from 1977, and you’ll see what I mean:

The result of all this is that any but the most experienced wine aficionado often will (1) buy a very expensive wine, equating high price with quality; (2) buy a very cheap but unpleasant wine and then throw it all away; (3) buy the same wine all the time; (4) not buy wine at all.

Sound familiar?

Depressing, too, given so little of that has changed in almost 40 years. But there are five things that can be done to make wine less confusing. The list, after the jump:

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