Debunking The Misconception Behind Screw Cap Wines

The Truth About Screw Cap Wines

Originally Published July 2023, Updated June 2024

Screw cap wines are often met with a skeptical side-eye across shelves, menus and tastings. Many consumers still believe that screw cap wines are synonymous with low quality.

But here's the truth: Just like we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we shouldn’t judge a wine by its closure.

In fact, it’s time we shattered this misconception and shed light on the undeniable advantages of screw caps. Winemakers across the globe trust screw caps to preserve and protect their wines, including prized vintages and sought-after varietals.

Join ABC Fine Wine & Spirits to discover the reasons behind the shift toward screw cap wines and challenge the stigma surrounding these contemporary closures.

The Start of Screw Caps

Let’s start with the obvious: wine closures serve to keep wine in and (most) oxygen out. Too much oxygen is bad for the bottle, as it can dramatically change the flavor and aroma of the wine. For centuries, winemakers have trusted cork, a natural and porous tree bark, to close and seal wine bottles. A natural cork closure allows for small amounts of oxygen to enter the bottle, which supports aging and the softening of tannins. Once inserted, cork creates a tight seal, utilizing its natural elasticity and compression properties to prevent too much oxygen ingress. But (dun, dun dun), it is these very same pores that can (and do) become a source of failure for the wine. We'll unpack that later. Due to this potential for failure, screw caps were created as a modern alternative to cork closures. A French company called La Bouchage Mechanique was the first to develop and utilize a screw cap in 1959. Australian Consolidated purchased the right to manufacture the closure in 1970 and renamed it “Stelvin®,” derived from the French words for "steel-wine."

The screw cap was used more widely throughout the industry by the turn of the century, but still faced pushback from customers, sommeliers and restaurants. Although screw caps were first developed and used in Old World wine regions, it was the New World players that fully embraced the closure and helped to build acceptance. In 2000, a group of Aussie winemakers in Clare Valley, frustrated by cork-related faults, banded together and bravely sealed a portion of their riesling production with screw caps. This bold bottling move didn’t go unnoticed and, in 2001, New Zealand winemakers coat tailed. Since then, New Zealand wines have been at the forefront of embracing screw cap closures, leading to significant success and acceptance in the industry. The Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative, launched in 2001, played a pivotal role in promoting screw caps throughout the country. It is common practice for almost all New Zealand wineries to use Stelvin® caps today. This progressive approach has helped to ensure the quality and consistency of New Zealand wines, which are recognized for their distinct flavor profiles and remarkable expressions of cool climate varietals.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Screw Cap Wines

The Structure of Screw Caps

The structure of the screw cap exemplifies simple, yet effective engineering. The closure consists of two components: an aluminum alloy cap attached to a sleeve and a liner made of expanded polyethylene wadding. The liner is covered with a tin foil layer that acts as a gas exchange barrier and is overlain by a Saran film to provide an inert surface for direct contact with the wine in the bottle. This design ensures a secure seal and preserves the wine's quality by minimizing gas exchange and maintaining freshness.

The Benefits of Screw Caps

Tradition is often prioritized over innovation in the wine industry, and natural cork closures are deeply tied to the practice of winemaking. And we get it—the heritage and history of winemaking are a huge part of what makes wine so alluring. But, despite the strong connection to cork, screw caps offer several advantages:

  • Ease of Opening: Convenience is key. Screw cap closures eliminate the need for a corkscrew, making it much easier and more convenient to open a bottle of wine. This ease is particularly appreciated by consumers (we’re looking at you, Millennials and Gen Z) who may not have a corkscrew on hand or prefer a hassle-free opening experience.

  • Cost-effectiveness for Winemakers: Stelvin® caps are significantly cheaper for winemakers than importing traditional corks from Europe, especially for countries in the Southern Hemisphere like New Zealand and Australia. Local production of screw caps reduces expenses, making them an economically favorable choice for winemakers, and passing savings down to consumers.

  • Consistency and Quality Control: Natural corks often have inherent flaws that can lead to cork taint, compromising the wine's integrity, aroma and flavor. With natural cork, there is a potential for cork-related contamination caused by a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA). There is no organic material involved with screw cap production, which greatly reduces the risk of cork taint. The consistent quality of screw caps provides peace of mind for winemakers and a positive drinking experience for consumers.

  • Storage and Re-sealing: Wines closed under a screw cap are more easily stored than their cork counterparts because they can be left upright. Corked wines need to be carefully positioned on their sides to keep the cork moist. Screw cap closures also make it a breeze to re-seal a bottle after pouring. You can easily keep your wine fresh and prevent it from being exposed to air by simply re-screwing the cap.

Unscrewing a screw cap wine

Squashing the Stigma

If you're still not convinced, allow wine expert Dan Eddy to enter the chat. Below, you'll find the most common misconceptions surrounding screw cap wines along with Dan's explanations debunking each of them. The more you know, right?

Misconception #1 - Screw Cap Wines are Indicative of Lower Quality

For years, consumers have associated screw caps with poor quality, and it’s simply not true. According to Dan, the association of screw caps with cheap wine likely originated from the use of screw caps on 3-liter jug wines, leading shoppers to equate the two. However, as awareness grows and consumers become more informed, this perception has gradually shifted. Wine drinkers and restaurants alike are realizing that screw caps effectively close both fine and value wine. Remember, just as the price of a bottle isn’t the sole indicator of quality, neither is the type of stopper. Big names in the business, like Joe Wagner who uses a Stelvin® on his luxury Quilt Napa Cabernet, have been instrumental in encouraging acceptance, Dan adds. Advances in screw cap technology have also led to modified designs that allow for controlled oxygen exchange. This innovation helps develop complex flavors and aromas in the wine as it ages.

Misconception #2 - You Can’t Age Screw Cap Wines

Let's address the main concern: aging potential. The aging ability of wines with screw cap closures is a hot topic of discussion and debate. Dan shares that while studies have been conducted, it remains somewhat subjective to personal preference adding that some winemakers believe Stelvin® closures can age red wines with the same success as corks. Additionally, since cork failures were prevalent in the past, screw caps offer more consistency. This is especially true for wines intended for immediate consumption or shorter-term aging like white wines or rosés. New screw caps have also been developed with adjustable oxygen transfer rates, allowing winemakers to control oxygen intake when needed. This means that the future looks bright for screw caps and aging potential.

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Misconception #3 - Screw Caps Rob the Opening Experience

The absence of the traditional uncorking ritual with screw caps is seen as a downside by those who live for the “pop.” Dan empathizes; using a corkscrew and hearing that subtle pop as you open the bottle is an anticipated part of the opening experience. But as awareness grows, the focus is slowly moving toward appreciation of the wine drinking experience itself and less about the uncorking ritual. With screw caps, consumers can fully appreciate the integrity of the wine without the risk of cork taint or oxidation (because no one likes pouring a bottle down the drain!).

The reality is that a wine closed under a screw cap is not a lesser product. Today, we are seeing winemakers who have embraced screw caps challenge traditional ideas and demonstrate the value and practicality of the Stelvin® system. If you are still feeling iffy, we recommend drinking and deciding for yourself. Below are some fantastic screw cap wines to twist, sip and enjoy.

Dan Eddy’s Recommended Screw Cap Wines from Around the World

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Serafino Shiraz

Serafino
Shiraz

Australia

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Airfield Cabernet Sauvignon

Airfield
Cabernet Sauvignon

Washington State

Interested in sipping on other screw cap wines? Stop by your local ABC store to search the shelves for Stelvin® closures or check out all our screw cap wines online.

Interested in learning more? Visit our ABC Blog page.