No Cork? Screw it.

Welcome to the world of high quality Canadian wine! That's part of what we do here in the South Okanagan and it's something that we're proud of. We want to make sure that our wines are well protected so that they'll be perfect whenever you decide to open them. That's why there are a lot more quality wines with screw caps here than you might be used to.

I can hear you thinking, "Doesn't a screw cap mean that the wine is cheap? I only ever see the cheap plonk with screw caps. Quality wine always has a cork."

That may have been true in the past and maybe it still is in wherever your preferred wine region happens to be. In BC though, Canadians don't really care as much about the closure as a marker of quality in wines. There are highly reputed wineries here that have changed over their entire wine portfolio to be sealed under screw caps.

Here's why. Wines can be tainted by a bad cork because of a compound in the cork itself called 2,4,6-Trichloroanisol (or TCA, for short). There's no secret to this and it's been known about for years within the industry. The failure rate of corks has been estimated conservatively at around 6%, which is a huge amount given the volumes of wine that are produced worldwide. Imagine if one tire on every fifth car on the highway was prone to exploding at high speed. 6% is a completely unacceptable failure rate for any product. Why should we expect anything less from a bottle of wine?

The problem is that unlike an exploding car tire, tainted wine is not always easy to for people not familiar with it to detect, even though humans can sense it at a concentration of only a few parts per trillion. Even so, this is what wineries are absolutely petrified about when it comes to cork taint. They aren't worried about customers bringing back cork tainted wine to the store or returning them at the winery (most wineries and stores are quite happy to exchange any bottle without problem at all - the winery I work at takes all of the bottles up to the lab and analyzes them asap.) No, they are worried (petrified even) of the customers who don't; The customer who opens a cork-tainted bottle, tries it, and simply decides that Chateau No Name's wines just aren't any good and never buys their wines again. That's the kind of thing that wine makers and winery owners have nightmares about.

The screw cap provides relief for those wine makers and winery owners so that they can sleep better at night knowing that their wines are going to be much more safely sealed in a screw capped bottle.

I now hear you thinking other arguments. "Corks are traditional. It's part of the history." Humans have been making wine for thousands of years but we've only been bottling them for 250. Thomas Jefferson bought his wine in barrels from Europe and then bottled them himself in Virginia, but only sometimes. A lot of wine was simply drawn directly from the barrel.

"But, it's part of the ritual of serving wine!" Yes it is. And like marriage ceremonies, Christmas, and birthday parties, rituals can change and evolve over time.

"Wines don't age in the cellar properly under screw caps." All wines age but they do age differently in screw capped bottles than in cork enclosed bottles. After that, it's just personal preference.

"I...I  just don't like screw caps." Well then, you'll be missing out on some great BC wine. There will still be lots for you to choose from, but you'll be missing out on some gems. I hope that maybe you'll feel adventurous enough to try it but it is your choice in the end.

I have had customers tell me outright that they loved a particular wine that I was pouring for them, but that they couldn't buy it because it had a screw cap. I could tell that one gentleman in particular was having a very difficult time reconciling his preference for cork enclosed wines with his obvious liking of the wine in question. (He asked to taste it twice, just to make sure, but in the end for him, he could not in good conscience purchase a wine under a screw cap.)

At the end of the day of wine touring, it's really what's in the bottle that counts the most. Do you love the wine that you're tasting? Great. Pop it open and enjoy.

Cheers from wine country!

This article was written by our wine writer, Luke Whittall.  Luke is passionate about wine and writes and develops podcasts on his website www.winecountrybc.ca