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A Global Twist on Closures

Our informal tracking of twist-offs indicates that more wines than ever are being bottled under screw caps
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jan 11, 2013 4:00pm ET

Not surprisingly, New World wineries have more openly embraced twist-off closures than Old World producers, who still rely heavily on cork for sealing their bottles.

Much of what defines New World winegrowing relies on advances in technology, and while wine closures are less about technology, they reflect a mindset among vintners that recognizes the shortcomings of corks as well as the viability of their alternatives.

According to our statistics based on wines reviewed in 2012 by Wine Spectator editors, 91 percent of New Zealand's wines were bottled under twist-off, followed by Australia (67 percent), Oregon (23 percent), Argentina (14 percent), Washington (12 percent) and California (8 percent).

By comparison, only 6 percent of Spanish wines reviewed by us in 2012 had twist-offs, followed by France, with 3 percent, and Italy, with only 2 percent.

Overall, roughly 11 percent of all the wines we reviewed in 2012 came in twist-offs, which is telling. Alternatives to cork have met resistance in many markets and, just a decade or so ago, twist-offs were rare. Ten percent of the wines we reviewed in 2011 were botled under screw cap, while in 2005, the total was just 5 percent twisties.

In California, PlumpJack's decision to bottle half of its 1997 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet with twist-offs (and charge $10 more for it!) provided an important reference date. While some vintners who tested twist-offs said consumers, retailers and distributors balked at wines that weren't bottled with corks, PlumpJack reports their twist-off reserve hasn't faced strong resistance, and they are currently partnering with UC Davis in a long-term screw-cap effectiveness study.

What's also telling is that more vintners are addressing the cork taint issue head on, as well as cork's deterioration over time. Virtually every winemaker I know admits that corks are a huge problem and some of the most prestigious wineries in the world—including Bordeaux first-growth Margaux—are experimenting with alternative closures. Most Old World and California wineries have resisted the change thus far, primarily because of image, tradition and close-minded consumers. And some vintners have given twist-offs a try only to abandon them in the face of consumer resistance. If trends continue, however, we'll only see more twist-offs in the future.

Joseph Byrne
CA —  January 11, 2013 5:51pm ET

Thanks for staying on point with the closure issues with cork. Great blog before with Winemakers letting us know about their experiences with corks and twist-offs.

I am afraid it will take a generation before the ratio of corks versus twist-off changes in the Old and New (CA really) World. Too many traditions and business and not enough logic and science are followed for this to change any time soon.

The restaurants are a big factor in this too. They still believe that the cork opening is part of the experience and screwcap does not help the whole opening, showing, smelling etc.

A number of restaurants (like Eleven Madison in NY did) pour the wine away from the table and will try and see if it is flawed before serving it. Few folks have the skills that the Sommelier/Wine Director has to pick up these flaws from cork and why does the customer have to be the one to find it ?

Most of the time a corked or oxidized wine will only taste bad from a customers point of view. The customer does not know why or won't say anything and in the end they either don't buy that wine again or worse don't come back !

To many times cork has ruined a wine or broken off for being too old at many of meals.

Here is hoping twist-offs make it in our generation.

Thanks, Joe
Austria —  January 11, 2013 6:17pm ET
i'm not shure if there is an exact number to say how much bottles of wine in austria where sealed with twist off, but in white wine we are nearly to 50% of the bottlings in twist off. and a growing number of vintners planning to change these closure for the future to twist off. so you're right mr. laube, it will be an state of the art closure in future!!!

i prefer wines with twist off since 2002 cause each bottle with cork is definitly a bad thing for me as wine lover. some times i own only 1 or 2 bottles from a wine cause the price is often to high for me. and espacially these expensive bottles are not so easy to rplace, so its a deep cut in my heart (and bank account)if the bottle is destroyed from spoilage by cork. so i buy more expensive bottles if they have twist off closure (like mollydooker's carnival of love or enchanted path and velvet glove. and if there are more high end wines from cali with screw cap please take a note in the tasting reports or tasting notes like CLOSURE: NK (naturcork) SC (screwcap) and so on. my new years wish for 2013!!!
Dave Devine
Cologne, Germany —  January 11, 2013 6:40pm ET
I like the glass closures that some Austrian producers are using.
Will Malone
Douglas, MA —  January 12, 2013 8:22am ET
As a self-professed cork lover, (kitchen backsplash made entirely out of corks) I have to admit there are few things more disappointing during a dinner/tasting than to open a "prized" bottle, only to have the wine ruined by a faulty cork. Nothing like a corked bottle to open the eyes of a "close-minded consumer"....like me.
Richard Dodd
Asheville,NC —  January 12, 2013 8:55am ET
Opened a1995 Chateau Margaux for Christmas dinner his year. The cork looked to be in perfect condition, but the bottle was badly corked! Very disappointed ! Bring on the screw caps !
Austria —  January 12, 2013 10:21am ET
to dave - the vinolok looks really pretty good, but i am not so happy with it. to fix the glass"cork" they use a silicon ring on it, so this is not the best for wine and other alcoholic drinks. some are to airtight, some not so tight to close the bottle. and i saw the closure also on sicilian wine (cusumano) and other italian wineries. for me screw cap seems perfect, cause its nearly 100% equal for each bottling.
christian ortner
Jerry Potter
Charlotte NC —  January 13, 2013 10:53am ET
What about synthetic corks I haven't heard very much about their use? Are they effective?
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  January 14, 2013 1:56am ET
I deliberately increase my quantities to purchase when I know the wine is under alternate closures. I have significantly reduced my purchasing of cork-closed wines. I sought out Plumpjack Reserve under screw cap and bought it (even though that kind of "treat"is well above my normal per-bottle price). Better that than a corked alternative!
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco —  January 14, 2013 12:24pm ET
My kitchen has a cork floor. Best use of cork I know of.
Plumpjack Winery
Oakville, CA, USA —  January 14, 2013 6:29pm ET
Thanks for a great article Jim-

Vintners (and CFO's) know that screwcaps not only drastically reduce the quantity of faulty bottles, but that they can also result in wines of the same quality as those bottled with an untainted cork. As I mentioned in the last screwcap piece, the greatest challenge and obstacle that screwcaps face is that of broader consumer and restaurants acceptance. Many people in these segments believe that cork provides a better experience or simply perceive, erroneously, wines under screwcap to be "cheap." While we make sure and use the highest quality corks for our bottles, the possibility of TCA tainted wine is always on our mind. With screwcap closed wines we can rest assure that our wines show as we intend them to. And, while pulling a cork from a bottle may contribute to the experience, there is no worse experience than a cork-tainted wine, rendering that wine worthless.

Aaron Miller, Winemaker PlumpJack Winery
James Laube
Napa —  January 15, 2013 12:33pm ET
Aaron, I'm convinced that the term twist off is far more appealing and friendlier than screwcap...alas, I don't seem be be gaining any converts...
Tim Mc Donald
Napa, CA USA —  January 15, 2013 1:29pm ET
Twist off = zero closure defect. Another good shout out Jim for continuous improvement in the making of wine... In my opinion from studies and judging too many wines per year, synthetic and technical closures do not perform as well as twist offs! I have a cork floor in the kitchen too and yes it is a good use of tree bark.
Gregory Kendall
Laurel, MD, US —  January 16, 2013 11:03am ET
Cork in my house is used as a backing for my dart board! ; ) I also find cork a good use for a "cork board", a cork decoration for a table (so I may wax poetically about those great bottles of days gone by) and for a friend who teaches a fly fishing class and uses the cork to place the hooks / flys in. Cork = TRADITION ... yes, but I'm quite impressed with the twist offs to date! CORKED BOTTLES - 12, TWIST OFFS - 0 if you are counting at home.
Roger Heatley
Pepperell, MA, USA —  January 16, 2013 6:22pm ET
I'm fairly new to the whole wine thing, and enjoying it a great deal. Obviously I don't have any deep rooted prejudices on the subject, and as yet, to my knowledge, I haven't encountered any bottles which were tainted by a faulty cork. I am, however, rapidly coming to the conclusion that I prefer twist offs. Firstly, there's less fuss - when I want my wine, I usually want it NOW. Secondly, if I choose not to finish a bottle today, and want to set it aside, I'm more confident that when I open it up tomorrow, it won't have lost anything. Last of all, I'm finding that most of the wines from my favorite part of the world, South Africa, are showing up on these shores with twist off closures.

Just my humble opinion.
Daniel Flaherty
Port St Lucie, Florida USA —  January 22, 2013 8:44am ET
I think a lot of you are missing the boat. It's pretty obvious that the screw cap is more efficient than the cork. But the cork has something the screw cap can’t compete with, and that’s ritual. Everyone loves the ritual of cutting the foil, putting the cork screw in, and listing to the sound of the cork exiting the bottle...
James Laube
Napa —  January 22, 2013 4:59pm ET
Folks in the alternative closure camp have gotten way past the ritual and romance of cutting the foil and pulling a cork. Even if they might miss that, the comfort of knowing your wine will be sound is a more comforting reward.
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  January 23, 2013 5:03pm ET
I'll go one step further and say there is little I find more TEDIOUS than pulling corks, breaking corks, unweildy corkscrews, managing broken cork crumbs in bottles, and above all, TCA taint... except for maybe the anachronistic whinging about "ritual" and "tradition". Sorry, but I've no patience for abject stubbornness.

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