Posted by Michaela Laird on February 19, 2014
When I first began waiting tables at an Italian restaurant in California wine country, the moment when a table would order a nice bottle of wine would be an internal moment of panic. Newly 21, my primary experience with wine came from slapping the occasional Franzia bag at a house party. I hadn’t yet mastered the art of gracefully presenting and uncorking bottles of wine for the table, and I would have gladly foregone the increased cost of the bill and higher gratuity in order to avoid awkward fumbling with my wine key and, worst of all, the occasional, dreaded, breaking of a cork. As I grew more experienced (at the restaurant and with my own personal experience), I began to appreciate the small ceremony of opening a bottle of wine for a customer, presenting it, allowing them to taste it, and pouring it for the table.
Recently there has been a slight shift in the packaging of wine that could cause my fear as an inexperienced wine opener to no longer be an issue. Wine manufacturers are experimenting with new ways to package their wine and a growing development is the use of screw caps. Developed for wine bottles in 1959, the screw cap was initially associated with cheap, jug-style bottles of wine. But with the marketing of groups such as the International Screwcap Initiative, that image is slowly changing.
The International Screwcap Initiative is a nonprofit group of winemakers with the objective to “encourage and facilitate the use of screwcap wine seals by wine producers around the world; to provide a forum… facilitating the exchange of ideas, opinions and contributions to further the use of screwcaps; and to…best practice in use, promotion, and education of screwcap wine seals.” This initiative began in New Zealand in 2001 and went global in 2004. Screw caps have become widely popular with New Zealand winemakers and today 85% of New Zealand wines are bottled under screw caps. Australia is slowly following New Zealand’s example with 45% of their wine bottles today being sealed with a screw cap rather than a cork.  Other countries have been slower to adopt the screw cap but the International Screwcap Initiative has member wineries in France, South Africa, Argentina, Austria, and Greece.
Proponents of the screw cap argue that the airtight seal allows winemakers to guarantee that consumers will be opening their wine in pristine condition. In his book, Taming the Screw, Australian wine writer Tyson Stelzer points out that screw caps prevent cork taint, flavor modification, and sporadic oxidation. Further, Stelzer argues that screw caps provide a reliable long term seal, make cellaring much more convenient, and that both red and white wines can age under a screw cap.
However, many resist the transition to screw caps, especially those in the high-end wine world. Many winemakers in the U.S. are unsure about the aging of wines under a screw cap, as it is still relatively untested. Also, consumers and winemakers alike resist the abandoning of the traditional ritual of uncorking a bottle of wine.
Only time can tell how popular this “advancement” in bottling will become. While the screw cap’s future in the U.S. is uncertain, the one thing we know for sure is it is ultimately the taste that matters. As the old adage goes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.