Would sparkling wine be as popular without the pop? That was the question on many minds at the launch of the world’s first high-pressure sparkling wine under screw cap in Sydney May 8. With a look and feel much like a traditional aluminum screw cap, the new heavy-duty Viiva closure has been engineered for high-pressure sparkling wines. Until now, screw caps have been deemed reliable only for very lightly carbonated sparkling wines.
Guala Closures Australia and glass manufacturer O-I spent five years developing a closure rated to withstand five atmospheres of pressure. De Bortoli Wines, a large Australian producer, introduced two wines with the new closure at the press conference. But the bottle is not strong enough to withstand wine made in the traditional method, the technique made famous by Champagne. And while the closures offer some advantages over corks—no risk of cork taint and an easily resealable bottle—overcoming the romance of popping a cork from a bottle of bubbly may be a big hurdle.
The developers cited convenience as the primary motive for the innovation, in contrast to the shift to screw caps on Australian still wines over the past decade, which was prompted largely by complaints of cork taint and oxidation. “This closure system is perfectly suited to sparkling wines, which are popular among women, who often report difficulties in opening cork-closures and resealing a bottle,” said Simon Yudelevich, sales and marketing manager for Guala.
Yudelevich also cited safety of opening (no flying corks) and an ability to maintain carbonation days after resealing as key advantages of the closure. “This technology appeals to on-premise customers because it reduces time staff spend opening sparkling wines,” he added.
The companies' internal testing has reported promising results in pressure retention after 12 months storage and found that the closures were able to withstand 10 atmospheres of pressure. There's also a liner similar to that of a traditional screw cap, which should provide a reliable seal and oxygen barrier.
While sparkling wine drinkers may rejoice in any progress toward eradicating cork taint and bottle variation, don’t expect to be unscrewing your favorite Champagne any time soon. Sparkling wine is a particularly challenging sector of the market in which to launch an alternative closure. The romance of the pop of a cork is a powerful motivator, and the winemaking technical considerations are complex.
Viiva made its debut appearance today on two sparkling wines made by De Bortoli—Trevi and Willowglen. Both are value-priced sparkling wines bottled under four atmospheres of pressure and produced using the Charmat process, during which the second fermentation takes place in a pressure tank.
This is a necessary first evolution of sparkling-wine screw caps, which are not yet engineered to the challenge of Méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines bottled at around six atmospheres. The disgorgement process of ejecting the lees of bottle-fermented sparkling wines currently relies upon the easy removal and resealing of a crown seal or cork. “Viiva has been proven to 10 atmospheres of pressure but the bottle hasn’t yet been tested for wines beyond five atmospheres,” explained Yudelevich. “Even if we were to produce a closure and glass combination for seven atmosphere sparkling wines, we are yet to figure out how it would work for the disgorgement process.” The companies plan to tackle these challenges in the next stage of development.
In the meantime, De Bortoli will see how the caps are received by customers. Screw caps gained favor 10 years ago, driven by leading winemakers prepared to commit premium wines to the closure. More than 85 percent of Australian wine is now sealed with screw caps.
“With continued improvement of the bottle, I would expect that we will be able to introduce Viiva on our more premium sparkling wines in the future,” said Steve Webber, De Bortoli's chief winemaker.
Peter Hickner — Seattle, WA — May 8, 2012 8:03pm ET
Allan Martineau — Ottawa Canada — May 8, 2012 8:50pm ET
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