Screw yourself

A guide to screw-cap wines
By LAYNE WITHERELL  |  May 10, 2006

SPIN THE BOTTLE Get corked.This whole thing began when an anonymous couple opened and served their favorite bottle of wine. It smelled like wet cardboard in a musty basement, and didn’t taste a whole lot better. They later discovered that the wine wasn’t the problem, but the mold-tainted cork. Over the next few years in the wine/food chain everyone either tried to solve the problem or dodge the corklike bullet. Wineries blamed the cork factories, while the cork industry accused wineries of using cheap corks. No one knew what percentage of the corks was bad, or how to solve the problem.

Then, a number of premium wineries decided not to play anymore. After experimenting with the lowly, much maligned screw cap, they discovered it to be as good a seal as cork, and free of mold. (This is a bit like a fine restaurant announcing that, after much thought, the dishwasher is appointed head chef.)

A few wineries tried it, and liked it so much that Randall Graham of the Bonny Doon winery staged a “Death to the Cork” dinner in New York City in 2002.

The event showcased the bad blood on the subject. The costumes were black, the food was black, and little “barky” — as the sorry, dead cork was called — was paraded around in a tiny casket for all to see.

Now, the cork problem seems to have improved but the screw-cap insurgency has turned into a lifestyle. The only group not ecstatic over the premium quality wine with a screw cap is the restauranteurs, who are still horrified by the idea of shiny little screw caps sitting atop their gleaming white table cloths. Of, course, they can always use that wine by the glass.

The best screw cap wines announce their intensions immediately: drink me now, with no fanfare or pretension. They are fresh, fruity, and lively.

Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2005, $13.50, was one of the first commercial sized wineries to make the move. A cork says “lay me down for a while,” but a screw cap announces “drink me tonight.” And this is exactly what this wine is, an essay in powerful New Zealand grapefruit flavors without oak. Have it with Asian or Indian, and serve it cold.

Goats Do Roam, South Africa, 2005, $8.50, is what I call “screw cap lifestyle” wine. Instead of telling you any real information on either label you get to read a little enduring fable about their goat farm. No list of grape varieties or any of that superfluous crap. It tastes like sauvignon blanc and is very different from the Villa Maria. That is all I am saying.

Where there is a “screw cap lifestyle,” there is bound to be a “screw cap philosopher.” The Hogue Cellars’ Fume Blanc, 2004 Columbia Valley, $12, announces via a little neck hanger from their bottle that they have done their homework and it will be all right. The paper figure sports a white lab coat with arm and finger raised, and the quote is “We’ve done our homework,” indicating that it isn’t an accident that this screw cap is on top of your prospective purchase. They were actually the first very large premium winery to go to a screw cap. The wine is a delicious, subdued, and a touch grassy sauvignon blanc. The Villa Maria had more kiwi and grapefruit flavor. Have with grilled veggie things, especially asparagus.

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