Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hand Me a Screw Cap Bottle, Please!

I was just doing some math . . .
I open bottles of wine everyday, as I sample wines for my business, and have wine every evening with dinner. In addition to this, I have put on a few thousand wine tastings, special culinary events, as well as various parties, celebrations and wine dinners. Add in serving lunch and dinner in restaurants I have worked in or owned, I can easily say I have opened an average of 10 bottles of wine a day.
I have been in the wine and restaurant business in San Diego for 35 years now. At ten bottles a day for thirty five years, I figure I have opened about 127,750 bottles of wine during my career in this industry.
If you stood these 127,750 bottles up side by side, you would have an eight-mile long row of wine bottles. If you laid them down end to end, you’re looking at a twenty-five mile trail of opened wine bottles.
It now takes me an average of 20 seconds to open each wine (I just opened another to qualify this remark). This means I have spent 42,583 minutes opening wine, 709 hours in total. With an eight-hour workday, this tally’s up to eighty-eight days of work doing nothing but taking corks out of bottles of wine.
The wine experts claim up to 5% of all bottled wine is ruined by cork taint. If that is the case, then I have opened up 6,237 of bottles that were contaminated by cork bacteria, “corked” as we call it.
Can someone hand me a screw cap bottle, please?
Folks, screw cap wine bottles are really cool. Yes, historically, screw cap bottles generally signified a wine of a lesser and often inferior quality, but that image is diminishing rapidly among consumers. Literally, hundreds of top quality wines are now being placed in screw cap enclosures for ease of use, but most importantly to preserve the wine and offer the best, most consistent product possible to the consumer.
I know that screw caps diminish the drama and romance of opening a bottle of wine. I think that is great, actually. Some of the ‘pomp and circumstance’ surrounding the use of table wine should be dropped to allow easier social accessibility. Take the fear and mystery of opening a bottle of wine out of the picture, and more people will enjoy and understand the benefits of having wine with meals.
On my day off, Sunday, I often go to a chain restaurant just to have a dozen or so fresh oysters from their impressive selections. Always ordering a bottle of a fresh, white wine to go with them, I would wince watching our ‘server of the month’ struggle while opening a cork-enclosed wine. More than few times, I ended up taking over the corkscrew to aid in the battle. Now, with ordering a screw cap bottle there, I feel more relaxed, confident and secure the server can readily twist off the cap and pour away.
Corks are still necessary!
Most all screw cap enclosures are placed on wines not meant for cellaring. 90-95% of wine produced is consumed within its first year of release. Wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, some Chardonnay, Rose’s, and even some lighter red wines are perfectly suited for easy opening enclosures.
If you want a wine to place in your cellar to age for a more than a couple years, a cork enclosure is better suited for aging the wine. Cork allows minute amounts of air into the bottle, which assists in the development of the wine.
I recently spent some time with one of the finest winemakers in the world, Luis Barraud, from Vina Cobos in Argentina. His observations about cork enclosures are: “the general public is getting used to the idea of fine bottles of wine are being sold in screw cap nowadays, and certainly anything under $20 retail does not seem to raise an eyebrow.”
I totally agree. Let’s embrace the proper utilization of both screw cap and cork enclosures. Then after we have adjusted to these circumstances, we will be a little more ready to accept the next generation of premium wine containers: wine in a box! (Yes, I like this, too!)

Gary Parker
Gary Parker is the owner of The WineSellar & Brasserie