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Screw Cap Brunellos and Barolos?

Posted: Oct 27, 2006 5:53am ET

The British wine market loves screw caps. This is mostly due to the dominance of supermarket chains such as Tesco and Sainsbury, which sell masses of wine with screw caps. Most of their wine is around $5 or $6 a bottle and is consumed immediately. So they have fewer problems with screw caps.

So I was sort of surprised this morning over my cappuccino at home in Tuscany when I received an e-mail from a wine merchant friend in London, David Gleave of Liberty Wine. David is an old friend and clearly the best importer of Italian wines in the United Kingdom, and he is petitioning the Italian government to allow wine producers in DOCG appellations to use screw caps. For the moment, wine laws in Italy stipulate that DOCG wines such as Brunello, Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti Classico and others cannot use screw caps.

In fact, that law says that only “traditional closures” can be used, which basically means corks. I guess it could also include olive oil, because that’s what the ancient Romans used to seal off amphoras of wine. Nothing more tradizionale than that! But I don’t know any producers commercializing wine like that. (I am obviously joking!)

I think that DOCG wine producers should be able to use whatever they wish when bottling their wines, although I am not very happy with the idea of screw caps on Brunellos or any other top red from Italy for the moment. I think that there are still many issues concerning how reds age when they are bottled with screw caps. I think you have all read about these issues on this web site as well as in the magazine. (You can read both sides in our Great Cork Debate--pro-screw cap and pro-cork--as well as an article about The Science of Closures in our archives.)

But putting aside these concerns, I think that serious wine producers should be able to make the decision for themselves on what closures they use in bottling their wines. And that’s why Gleave has started a letter-writing campaign to the Italian Minister of Agriculture to get the DOCG laws changed.

Guus Hateboer
Netherlands —  October 27, 2006 7:52am ET
I agree, producers should decide for themselves, but hopefully listening to what their customers want. I'd say: nothing beats a good and not too loud proper PLOP when uncorking a bottle of wine (which actually is also the sound that was made by the glass cork that I recently found on a German Riesling spatlese)...wine stored with glass all around.
Reto Caviezel
Zurich, CH —  October 27, 2006 11:19am ET
Basically I agree that the market i.e. consumers should decide. Fact is that a lot of wine producers (e.g. in Australia) not only use screw caps for the low-end wines, but also start using them on premium wines. I don't think consumers would want screw caps on expensive wines, but it seems to be happening now. Therefore I don't mind that Italy still has an old-fashioned law in place which forbides closures other than cork. For the customer this is good news. I wouldn't buy any CC or Brunello with a screw cap and I don't want the producers to release such wines either.
Clarence Chan
London —  October 27, 2006 2:33pm ET
David is a restaurants supplier and those diners know nothing about fine wines.Please, please only traditional closures for DOCG, and any stoppers (even the paper)for the plonk, Tesco and Saintsbury
Danapat Promphan
Bangkok, Thailand —  October 27, 2006 3:09pm ET
Dear James,I totally agree that the producer should be able to use any closure they wish - cork, screw cab, or any other innovative closure. Personally, I won't buy any wine greater than $30 with screw cab. But a good range of Chianti Classico would fall under $30 and I will be happy with screw cab.DP
John Peterson
LA, CA —  October 27, 2006 7:26pm ET
For those that have said that they won't purchase an expensive wine with a screwcap, why? Is it the romance that's removed by having a screwcap or does it go deeper than that? I'm trying to understand the disadvantage ( other than the romance/tradition factor ).
Cao Chengjie
October 27, 2006 7:35pm ET
i just cannot appreciate the simpleness of opening a DOCG bottble with only screw caps. corks speak certain level of dignity, don't they?
Michael Culley
October 28, 2006 10:46am ET
I think that using short, cheap corks even for inexpensive wines doesn't reflect much of anything(I've had more problems with wines with this kind of cork); however, the long, expensive ones imprinted with the outline of the chateau or somehow embellished certainly show class and quality(dignity, why not?). I think a possible image problem with screw caps or the impression they give is one of cold, inorganic, robotic, and lifelessness instead of a former living, breathing organic entity.
Steven Balavender
Tampa, Fl —  October 28, 2006 5:37pm ET
I agree with Michael and Cao on this one. A screw cap on a nice Barolo or Brunello just doesn't seem right. James, you also bring up a good point on the aging of these wines with screw caps. Think that more "long term" experimenting with screw caps need to be studied before taking classic, cellar worthy wines to that level.
Marcos Volpiano
Brazil —  October 28, 2006 8:40pm ET
I guess in my country nobody buy expensive wines with screw caps.It is not good idea for producers
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  October 29, 2006 2:30am ET
I'm a restaurant guy. I don't have a problem w/ screwcap. There is a certain anxiety that comes w/ opening a nice expensive btl w/ cork, esp if it is one I suggested (is it corked, not because I'm afraid of corkscrews). Although, I did staff tasting of Caymus SS & have said it here before: I have never had a 'corked' Special Selection w/ that nice, long, soft, clean cork they use. Is it possible that you can really avoid TCA if you try hard enough?
Andrew Schaufflervircsik
Clarkdale, AZ —  October 29, 2006 3:09pm ET
It's not about the class, stylish opening, or any other such aesthetic appeal of cracking a good bottle. It's about the aging potential. Read the articles James notes. As far as I'm concerned, a screwcap that keeps the wine as fresh as the day it was bottled is not my idea of a classic. What will happen to all of those "drinking windows" so oft quoted in reports? Aging and mellowing - that's what it's all about.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  October 30, 2006 11:10am ET
Two questions:

Where is the class or stylishness in saving a wine for years and finding it ruined by the stupid cork?

Who says wines don't age under screw caps (or glass stoppers, the more alluring-looking inert closure)? In my experience they do soften and develop mature characteristics exactly as they would under a perfect cork, without losing the fruit that makes them so appealing in their youth.
Anthony Clapcich
October 30, 2006 1:59pm ET
James-- It sounds like you're pretty against screw caps. I'm shocked. I think Harvey Steinman has made some very strong arguments for them using cold, hard data and scientific reasoning. Is there no room for progress in the world of wine storage? Can corks be the only system for proper long-term storage? I would have thought that you would encourage a number of pioneering vineyards in Bordeaux and Tuscany to set aside a portion of their bottles for screw cap, especially since there is a market for them. In fact, if the English are very pro-screw cap, let them be the guinnea pigs of brunello/bordeaux storage, and then re-evaluate the bottles ten years later-- the proof will certainly be in the pudding! The wine world would be in for a huge surprise...probably to the benefit of the consumer!
Thomas J Manzo
Brielle, NJ —  October 30, 2006 2:42pm ET
Harvey, I like your points. I certainly enjoy the traditional cork closure, but more than anything I hate the disappointment in popping a bottle that's been ruined by it. Even if your second point is based on minimal experience with the screw cap (as that is all that's available), it still is valid and should be taken into consideration by winemakers. I'm not saying take drastic measures and attempt to convert all bottles to screw caps - that would be just about as successful and as popular as the Crusades. But what is 1 bottle out of every 12 bottle case? I wouldn't lose sleep at night knowing that just one of my bottles of fine wine was under a screw cap enclosure. If anything I'd be really psyched knowing that I'm holding a somewhat positively-evidenced experiment, which if successful, could yield amazing results, and if unsuccessful, really did not hurt me that badly as I lost but one bottle from my case...a loss which could just as easily be experienced with all bottles cork-enclosed.
Danapat Promphan
Bangkok, Thailand —  October 31, 2006 12:11am ET
Dear Harvey,

What do you think about "micro-oxidization" that James mention in the Great Cork Debate issue of WS? Can screwcab or glass stopper allow micro-oxidization as cork do?


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