March 03: The latest figures indicating about 40% usage of screwcaps should be a hint for the Indian wine producers to go the New World way and perhaps shift completely away from corks, says Subhash Arora
When the wine world, especially the old world was balking about the screwcaps while complaining bitterly about the cork taint which varied from 3-8% , New Zealand and Australia went ahead with trials and continued aggressively with the usage of screwcaps. Today over 80% of wine bottles in New Zealand are screw-capped whereas the number in Australia has gone beyond 60%.
According to recent figures, almost 7 billion wine bottles are sealed each year. While only 4% used screwcaps in 2003, the number has shot up to 2.5 billion (36%) this year.
According to Robert Parker, this number will jump beyond 50% by 2015. "The cork industry has not invested in techniques that will prevent corked wines afflicted with the musty and mouldy smell that ruins up to 15 percent of all wine bottles," he says. The one exception, he said, would be the wines meant to age for 20 to 30 years that will still use primarily cork.
The change was resisted in UK earlier but during the last 5-6 years it has undergone a tremendous change in the perception of screwcaps by the consumer. Many overseas producers now go to the extent of bottling in screwcaps especially for the UK market.
The evolution has been recent but consistent changes have been taking place. Well known Riesling producer, Ernie Loosen started using screwcaps for the entry level wines in 2004 after he was 'fed up with bad corks. E & J slipped in the screwcaps for supplies to Tesco in 2003.
The French Resistance
There has been stiff resistance from classified chateaux in Bordeaux and also in Burgundy as the long term ageing potential of screwcaps has been uncertain.
Telegraph reports that according to one wine expert, two of the world's top producers, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) in Burgundy and Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux are now looking into screw tops.
DRC won't comment on the sensitive issue, where cork is still viewed as irreplaceable by many purists and romantics. But Margaux has confirmed that they have been testing them for the past 4-5 years, admitting it was too early to comment on the results as their wines are meant to be kept for very long period.
However, one of Burgundy's known producers, Jean-Claude Boisset (imported in India by Global), has already started using them on top wines, including a Chambertin grand cru 2005. This year, a third of the producer's 200,000 bottles will be in screw caps. Company does not say the corks are bad, but that screwcaps are better.
The other alternative to the costly cork are synthetic caps, but wine producers feel they are fine for young wines, as they change shape and let the oxygen in after a couple of years .
Every producer has instances to narrate about the problems encountered with cork. Says Renaud Laroche, of the Laroche group in Burgundy, 'We had a lot of problems with corks in 2001, with entire batch turning defective. After that we conducted lots of tastings and settled on screw tops.' Now their Chablis grand cru also uses screwcap.
However, although he is happy with Stelvin (another name for screwcaps), as it keeps the wine fresh longer, he still preferred cork for reds. "Its advantage remains to be proven for red wines to be kept," he feels.
Screwcaps vs. Cork in India
The lead in using screwcaps in India has definitely been provided by Rajeev Samant, CEO owner of Sula Vineyards. Fiver years ago, he attended an international conference on screwcaps in New Zealand and came back a convert. Today, he is screw-capping all his wines except the top end Dindori Reserve. 'We have decided that the 2008 vintage onwards it will also be closed with the screwcap.' Has he been happy with the results? 'I am not only happy, I am thrilled. It has made our quality a lot better,' he informs delWine, bubbling with joy.
Grover Vineyards has shifted gradually to screwcaps for white wines and rosé. Kapil Grover, MD is also extremely happy with the results. 'Now when I open a bottle I know it will be crisp and fresh. Earlier, it used to be suspense whether the cork will be tainted', he says. Kapil adds,' We have now decided to screwcap our entire production from this vintage in August – September except our top wine, La Reserve.' The response has been very positive from the customers and the retailers.
One winery that is still hesitant- a La France is Chateau d'Ori owned by Monsieur Ranjit Dhruvu. 'We have used screwcaps with our popular range Viva and may consider them for our white varietals, but we have no plans to change our attitude towards the reds. We plan to improve the quality of our award winning red wines even further and make them more age-worthy. We won't move away from cork-we'd rather pay more and get better quality and keep tighter checks during wine making.
His favourite expression is, 'using screwcaps on fine wine bottle is like going to a Fine dining French restaurant and asking for a hamburger.'
Looking at the number of people eating hamburgers , it appears India is developing more and more appetite for hamburgers.
Obviously, this did not happen. Even today corks are still popular. Amorim, the biggest producer of corks in the world, located in Portugal, sells over 5 billion corks a year. Part of the reason is the Cork industry spent millions in R & D and today Amorim claims a technology introduced only last month, that ensures zero defect corks. At Wine Future 2021 Virtual Conference where Antonio Amorim, Chairman of the Amorim group was a panelist with Subhash Arora in one of the Sessions, claimed that the new process introduced last month gives the perfect cork and that their sales were on the increase with record sales-editor
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