wine in a screwcap – a french view

Update 13.4.2007(12.4.2007)billn

It was a timely mail. After such a long run of taint free wine opening I can report the opening of two consecutive bottles of tainted wine – they just happened to be Jadot’s 99 Clos de Bèze followed by the Chézeaux (Ponsot) 99 Clos St.Denis – I don’t want to think about replacement cost…

Anyway, back to the mail. The arch evangelist of stelvinised burgundy Grégory Patriat of JC Boisset sent me a mail today with 3 articles from the French ‘press’ all published in the last week. I offer you my own ‘loose’ translation of one of them from this original:

Throw out your corkscrews!
The prosecutor condemns cork. The lawyer defends the screwcap.

What is the common denominator between Vaudeveys 2003 from Laroche (Chablis 1er Cru), a Château Louvière 2003 from André Lurton (Pessac-Léognan) and Schlossberg 2004 from Domaine Albert Mann (Riesling, ‘grand cru’)? – agreed three white wines! But there is more… What is the bond that links them to Château Agassac 2004 (Haut-Medoc) and a vintage 2005 Chambertin grand cru from Jean-Claude Boisset? These are certainly both red wines, but still…
I will help you a little. It is not a question of the contents but of the containers. Sealing the bottles, to be exact. The owners of these domaines decided to free themselves from the good old stopper made of cork or rather its occasional taste due to the presence of TCA (trichloroanisol) which would taint 6% (according to the cork producers) with 15% (according to the complainants) of the world’s viticultural production. That is to say an annual loss estimated at 540 million euros for 2004.

For André Lurton; “Moving to the screwcap was my road to Damascus. The domaine’s oenologist – without comment – carried out some tests, and ten years later, we tasted these wines blind. It was like having a photo”. I went searching in the cellar for scewcapped Swiss wines which I had brought back from a trip twenty years earlier – such beautiful freshness, they seemed to have been bottled only six months before, the fruit had been incredibly well preserved”. André Lurton is at a crossroads: he wants to convince the traders of the ‘place de Bordeaux’. “The market which resists most, is France…” It is not about selling “small bottles” or a poor dishwater of a wine that screwcaps should be reserved for, rather the crus – premier and grand.

Another summary comes from Christophe Juarez, director-general of Laroche: “In 2001, we decided to test the six existing techniques. Each year, we tasted – blind – the bottles sealed with synthetic, cork, or screwcap. Very quickly, we proposed a choice to our customers of cork or screwcap – today, 80% of our production is distributed with a screwcap. The market which resists most is France…”

Should we be conservative?

Let’s be clear, the screwcap is an old technique; the first prototypes go back to the 1960’s. Almost no sales in 1960 became 100 million closures twenty years later and 200 million by 1990. Poor quality cork accelerates this movement: 1 billion ‘collars’ in 2005, a figure which could be doubled in 2007. Alcan Packaging Capsules is at the forefront; an American company with a 6 billion dollar turnover, 31,000 employees and 132 sites – including 3 factories in France. The annual rise of the market corresponding to 70% of the production of Bordeaux (800 million collars). Yippee! The company has invested 25 million euros in two years to meet the French demand (+ 30%). The important tasters already crossed a line. The guru Robert Parker in the lead: “I believe”, he says, “that the wines closed with cork will be a minority from here by 2015! The trademark Stelvin is the screwcap of reference, and will become the standard vehicle… the synthetic stoppers do not work”. Better, the surveys show that consumers who have experimented (my God, what an adventure!) soon changed their opinion: the rate of acceptance of the screwcap moved from 41% (in 2003) to 74% (in 2006).

You still have a corkscrew? Throw it away!

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

There are 2 responses to “wine in a screwcap – a french view”

  1. Fred Schilling12th April 2007 at 9:42 pmPermalinkReply

    thanks for the report. Life’s too short to deal with flawed bottles. If it was any other food product the lawyers would be having a field day chasing the cork purveyors. There’s probably even more of a problem with random oxidation (us older ones used to shrug and call it bottle variation) than TCA not to mention the random “cork-wood” taint that can be noticeable in unoaked whites.


  2. Daniel R Somerfield14th April 2007 at 7:31 pmPermalinkReply

    I am really on the fence about this. I am concerned that we just don’t have enough information to know how the bottles are going to do in the long run. If, in fact, Lurton’s assertion about the freshness of the wine is correct, well, I am not sure that’s such a good thing either. If I want a wine that tastes young, I will drink a young wine. Freshness is certainly not anything.

    On the other hand, a couple corked bottles in a row, and I start getting pretty cranky.

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