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April 2007


WINE & SPIRITS

Full Closure
By Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave

A HOT DEBATE IN THE WINE WORLD HAS AN ECO-MINDED TWIST

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When it comes to wine, which is the greener choice, screw cap or cork? The answer would seem to be obvious. Screw cap bottles save cork oak trees, right? Well, yes and no. The great cork debate, it turns out, is much more complex than that—for reasons effecting both the palette and the planet.

The screw cap closure, when first introduced about five years ago, came up against all sorts of resistance. Unscrewing wine bottles, purists argued, lacks the ritual, romance and elegance of popping a cork. Proponents countered that cork taints the wine.

"Five to 10 percent of all wine has a form of cork taint," explains Kevin Judd, winemaker at the legendary Cloudy Bay in New Zealand and an early advocate of the move to screw top closures. "Under cork, wine doesn't age consistently, and bottles can be very unpredictable." At Cloudy Bay, which is known primarily for its crisp, clean Sauvignon Blanc, winemakers experimented at first with synthetic cork before trying out screw caps, produced by French company Stelvin, in 2002. The winery, like most of New Zealand's producers, now seals 100 percent of its bottles with screw caps.

Despite New Zealand's firm embrace of screw cap closures, the cork debate continues to grip the global wine industry. While whites have been shown to do well without cork, long-aging reds remain largely unproven.

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