How I Stopped Loathing, and Started Loving the Screwcap
27 Oct, 2011
I am a sommelier, and my most important job is to recommend the right wine for the right meal for the right guest at the right price. After a thoughtful question and answer session with my diners, I will go to my cellar and produce a bottle that has been agreed to meet their specific parameters and desires. Some nights, the bottle is sealed with a screwcap….oh, the horror! The husband looks nervously at his wife…she looks with scorn at the bottle. “We don’t drink cheap wine”…”I like the romance of a cork being pulled”…”Is this really going to be any good?”…
I’m ready and braced for this level of distaste and realize that they are now questioning my sanity as a lady in fine dining restaurant that have the audacity to recommend this plonk to enjoy with their delightful dinner. I like to take that time to share this story, and it was a tragic one.
A few years ago, I went on a lengthy tour of Europe with my family, thanks to my Riesling loving Mom. I was already a student of all things vino and was excited that I would have the chance to collect some bottles that I could not buy in Milwaukee. Mind you, this was in the olden days when you could still fly with luggage stuffed with liquids. Shampoo, contact solution, Absinthe, Bordeaux, who cares? I loaded up my backpack (and that of my siblings) with every bottle that I could afford to bring back. I treated these wines like treasures when I was back home. They were stored in the coolest darkest places, gently resting on their sides, and absolutely not disturbed until the evenings that I had declared that this was the right year to open this bottle.
A few delightful bottles and then….the duds. The soul-crushing experience of pulling that cork and having the smell of musty cardboard waft up at my face. These bottles were affected by Trichloroanisole (TCA for short or “cork taint”) and I would never be able to enjoy them. TCA is a nasty fungal metabolite that won’t harm a wine drinker, but destroys the taste of anything that resembles wine. Funny thing is, is has a keen attraction to natural cork, and is quite rarely found in bottles that are sealed with a screwcap. I had brought from overseas, and cherished three bottles ofBordeauxthat were rendered useless simply because of the way the bottle had been sealed.
My mind was open to trying something new. I had also turned my nose up at bottles with screwcap tops for years, for the same reasons that people give me funny looks when I bring it to the table now…”Gee, this must be garbage”. I discovered that quite a few top Aussie wineries were sending their wine over sans cork. New Zealand was on-board, sending fresh, clean and crisp Sauvignon Blancs. California“Cult” Cabernet Sauvignon producers like Plumpjack got in the game. Washington & Oregon are sending out gorgeous high-end juice without natural corks. Lately, even Europe, the root of my sorrows on this topic, has started to send over selections capped with screwcaps. I am not going to hold my breath and expect Chateau Petrus to change their ways, but I applaud the move to send out less funky, musty wine to the consumers. Vive le screwcap, you aren’t just for plonk anymore!