Learning to Love the Stelvin Screw Cap

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...

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Did you know the screw cap that you’ve reluctantly come to embrace on your favorite young wine is called a stelvin enclosure? Initially, when these ridiculously convenient enclosures became popular, I was skeptical.

Wine is as much about ritual as anything, and I have a beautiful Laguiole wine opener that I enjoy using to slide the cork out of a great bottle.

So I was interested to read this article by Alison Aubrey on The Salt comparing the screw cap to the more traditional cork.

Ms. Aubrey says:

If you’re a wine drinker, you’ve probably noticed that screw caps are no longer considered the closure just for cheap vino. Increasingly, bottles of very good wines are unscrewed, rather than uncorked.

Screw caps for wine bottles have been around since the late 1950s, but they were initially associated with value-oriented jugs of wine. That image started to change about a decade ago, when commercial winemakers in New Zealand and Australia started using the enclosures much more widely for all kinds of wine, including some higher-end bottles.

Increasingly, winemakers prefer screw caps for white wines and reds meant to be drunk young.

But are they as effective in preserving the grape as the mighty cork?

Increasingly, winemakers “prefer screw caps for white wines and reds meant to be drunk young,” says Dave McIntyre, a wine writer whose columns appear in The Washington Post.

Take, for instance, the wines from Cupcake Vineyards in Livermore, Calif. James Foster, the senior winemaker at Cupcake, says he loves screw caps for his sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio.

“The screw cap keeps it [the bottle] sealed and does not allow oxygen to enter the bottle,” Foster says. And that, he explains, ensures that the wine remains crisp and well-preserved.

On the other hand, he opts for cork or synthetic cork for his more complex wines such as his chardonnay and his reds, including his cabernets and his Red Velvet, a blend of zinfandel, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah.

“Bigger, fuller wines benefit from a little oxygen that the cork naturally allows the wine to intake while it’s in the bottle,” says Foster. The tiny bit of air inside the bottle, Foster says, helps smooth out the tannins, which give reds their velvety mouth feel but can also create a harsher taste. The extra air oxidizes the tannins so they’re softer, making the wine “even more drinkable and approachable to our consumers,” he says.

As it turns out, I bought a bottle of Cupcake Vineyards’s chardonnay over the holidays and opened it easily and swiftly, not missing my rosewood friend at all. The wine was crisp and delicious. I’m sold!

As always, thanks to NPR’s The Salt and to Allison Aubrey for the balanced and informative view on the stelvin screw cap.

Do you embrace the screw cap enclosure for your favorite wines?

Photo credit: Craig McCord