The Ritual of the Cork

Nearly every time I open a bottle of white wine to pour in the tasting room, customers automatically take note of the screw cap. “Are you moving to screw caps?” they ask, with a puzzled, almost fearful look. “Don’t panic,” I say, assuring them that we are not turning to screw caps for all of our wines, just for a couple of our whites. Screw caps are fine for white varietals fermented in stainless steel. Stainless steel fermentation results in crisp, clean dry wines that showcase acidity, as well as a varietal’s floral and/or fruity character. Such wines are not meant for long-term cellaring, so the cork really isn’t necessary. Corks are a natural product that breathes—air enters the cork, helping the wine age while in the bottle.

I can live with screw-cap wines as long as the wines are well structured. And, despite increasing support by the wine industry to use them in some instances as an alternative to cork, I’m happily wedded to the cork. I’m a traditionalist who enjoys the ritual of uncorking a bottle of wine. It’s like opening a present: First you remove the foil (unwrap the box), then you place the corkscrew into the cork and slowly release it from the neck of the bottle (open the box), hopefully in anticipation over what’s inside. Then you sniff and check the bottom of the cork, as well as taste the wine, for possible faults (check out your gift). And, if all is well, you pour the wine (show your present to your friends) and enjoy.

Whereas, twisting off a screw cap is in sharp contrast to the cork removal ritual. The process reminds me of that Seinfeld episode (for those of you who are fans) in which Jerry is dating a woman he calls “man hands.” They are at a restaurant and man hands offers to open a bottle of beer for Jerry. Just as she starts, the camera zooms in on her large, thick hands as she aggressively wrestles the neck of the beer bottle with one hand while twisting off the cap with the other. Twisting the cap off of a bottle of wine lacks a similar finesse. And then there’s that crackling sound the screw cap makes as it’s released from its bondage to the metal thread. This process certainly doesn’t set the stage for a romantic candle-lit dinner. In fact, it sort of leaves me feeling, oh I don’t know, dare I say: a bit “cheap”?

Unfortunately, the general public has associated this feeling of “inferiority” with screw cap wines for some time. This perception, however, is all in one’s head. There are many quality wines that have screw caps. And while I own some of these varietals, I will never surrender my deep affection for the cork.

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