The debate over the use of cork or other alternatives as the best means of sealing wine bottles is set to continue this week with the announcement that the Oregon-based WillaKenzie Estate winery in the US is to be the first North American wine maker to use a screw cap for a Pinot Noir wine.
The company's 2001 Pinot Noir Oregon Cork-Free will join the 2000 release of Cork-Free Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, raising the total of the WillaKenzie Estate cork-free wine production to 15 per cent.
"I have seen anywhere from 3 to 10 per cent of my wines affected by cork taint," said Thibaud Mandet, WillaKenzie winemaker. "We are putting all this effort into the vineyards and throughout the winemaking process, and it's very frustrating not being able to guarantee that every bottle is consistent in quality."
The controversy surrounds the defects that can be found in natural corks, Mandet said. They can become tainted with trichloroanisole, commonly known as TCA, a chemical which can impart musty overtones to a wine, or may simply mute its flavours and aromatics.
Screw caps have a bad reputation in the wine industry, linked as they have been to poor quality wines sold in bulk, but Mandet said they were becoming increasingly popular among some quality winemakers who believe them to be the best closures for preserving wine's freshness.
In November 2002, a screw-capped wine was named New Zealand's top wine for the first time. Villa Maria's 2001 Reserve Pinot Noir took the Champion title at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, while two other screw-capped wines were judged best of their variety at the event.
For WillaKenzie Estate, the decision to bottle with screw caps was motivated entirely by the drive to achieve top quality and consistency in the wines, while giving its customers a clear choice, the company said. Whether bottled with natural cork or screw caps, the wines are made identically and are priced the same.