Yes, it’s true! Although I’ve stated in a previous blog that I equate ‘screw caps’ with cheap wine and hobos the fact is that if I want to review any wines from New Zealand and Australia, to name a few, I will most likely have to swallow my pride and purchase a wine with the aforementioned ‘screw cap’.
These ‘screw caps’ also known as a Stelvin cap (named for the company that first invented them back in the late ’60s early ’70s) are predominately used on most wines produced south of the Equator such as in New Zealand and Australia. Although they were met with resistance and phased out in the early 1980’s they were reintroduced in the 1990’s.
Since then the consumer acceptance of these Stelvin caps on wines have gone from 1% in 2001 to 70% in 2004 according to Wikipedia.The main reason, or so I am told from a wise wine instructor, is three-fold.
First off, there is the debate that Stelvin caps actually preserve the wine better and virtually guarantee that the wine will reach the customer in the condition that the wine maker intended it to. Others still argue that the slight oxygen leakage that comes from cork helps the wine age better. Who’s to say who’s right?
The second reason for the re-emergence of Stelvin caps particularly south of the Equator is cost. Cork trees primarily grow in countries that run along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where there’s plenty of sunshine, low rainfall and high humidity. The countries that produce the most cork include Portugal, Algeria, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia. Because of this geographic dilemma using cork in wines produced south of the Equator adds more cost to producing a bottle of wine. When that happens you pay more for wines from these regions. (That explains that really expensive bottle of New Zealand wine with a cork I saw the other day…but I digress…)
To keep the cost of the wines down in Australia and New Zealand most wineries in those areas use Stelvin caps instead of cork. It’s easier and more cost effective to produce Stelvin caps locally then to ship in cork from all the way across the world.
The third reason that wines south of the equator use Stelvin caps rather than cork is to preserve the environment or so some are saying. I, myself, am doubtful of this. The argument is that all the cork being used for wine will deplete the cork forests however I’ve read other articles (namely this one from About.com) that state just the opposite.
Conservationist, environmentalists, and local cork regions are concerned that if wine producers stop using cork for their bottle closures then the cork forests will be discarded and the local animals and environment that depend on the cork trees to survive will also be discarded and ultimately destroyed. Being the tree-hugging vegetarian that I am I have to say that this view makes more sense to me than the former. It will make it even harder for me to buy a bottle of wine with a Stelvin screw cap.
So there you are! Your little tidbit of wine knowledge for the week. Use it as you see fit. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, and base your decision on cork versus screw top on what makes sense to you. 🙂