Cork loses taste test

By Joelle Thomson

Screwcaps work so well they now top most New Zealand wine bottles making cork taint a thing of the past, writes MiNDFOOD wine editor Joelle Thomson.

There’s nothing romantic about a screwcap.

They don’t pop when opened, they click. Their chunky metallic appearance does nothing to enhance the appearance of a wine bottle.

And yet, screwcaps are now so popular that they seal over 90 per cent of New Zealand wine and about 70 per cent of Australian wine.

The reason is simple: they work. Cork taint is a thing of the past since screwcapped wine.

But while cork taint’s musty, mousey, damp cardboard aromas is no longer a problem, reductivity is a new concern.

At its worst, reductivity smells like rubber or rotten eggs. When working 100 per cent effectively, screwcaps eliminate this problem. But it can strike, as a recent tasting revealed.

In North Canterbury last month, winemakers Matt Donaldson and Lynnette Hudson poured comparative Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillons to try; one under cork, the other under screwcap.

Unaware of what the wines were or how they were sealed, we were asked which we preferred.

The smell of the wine under cork was soft, floral and open but the wine tasted dull. The wine under screwcap smelt tight and slightly rubbery, but tasted fresh, clean, floral and pretty.

Five out of six people agreed on this.

The fact that Donaldson and Hudson opened these wines, which were a couple of years old (and not necessarily indicative of what they make now), shows their openness and willingness to accept feedback.

The same is true of many other winemakers in New Zealand.

Last week I tasted a Gisborne viognier under cork and screwcap. Myself, a wine drinker, a former restaurateur, and a wine importer all agreed that the wine under screwcap smelt and tasted better than the one under cork.

Like a lot of Kiwi winemakers, James Millton from Gisborne is trialling the same wines under screwcap and cork for comparative purposes.

I’ve now tasted four bottles of the 2006 Millton Vineyard Viognier – two under cork and two under screwcap.

Screwcaps won out both times, but a couple of bottles here and there is not grounds for claiming true comparative results.

For that, the Australian Wine Research Institute is leading the charge with decades worth of scientific and taste evidence, showing screwcaps as the preferable closure for aromatic white wines. The jury is still out on reds.

A rubbery aroma is more likely to be about winemaking methodology rather than an innate problem with screwcaps.

All I know is that I’m over cork taint and random oxidation, which are rampant under cork.

Screwcaps eliminate these problems, but the last word on wine closures is a long way off yet.


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