To cork or screw cap that’s the question

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I attended a tasting recently, organised to highlight how a wine’s flavour is affected – if at all – by using screw caps or corks to seal the wine. 

Being that screw caps have been readily accepted in New Zealand and further afield with little questioning, I thought this was a great chance to compare. 

Much of the early cynicism about screw caps was directed at the ageing of red wines; will they develop the same way?
Let me start by saying that I had some preconceived ideas about the results (in other words I thought I knew it all). 

When screw caps first started to be used in Central Otago, around 2001, Felton Road invited a few people out to the winery to compare the same wine under screw cap and cork. 

Winemaker Blair Walter served the same pinot blind, one cork, one screw cap, and asked us to pick which was which. We all picked the screw cap, as it was fresher and livelier. Since then I haven’t done the trial again. Therefore my preconceived ideas were based on very little. 

Our host Surveyor Thomson is a Lowburn producer, growing only pinot noir from a single vineyard. 

General manager Claudio Heye decided to continue to bottle half of the vintage in screw cap and half Diam cork (a reconstituted, treated cork that is cork-taint free). This gives him the opportunity to host these sorts of tastings, creating interest, discussion and hopefully a lasting memory. 

The wines are high-quality pinot noirs, aged in French Oak and, true to style, fruit-driven and silky. 

We tried three different vintages – 2007, 2009 and 2011. Each was served in pairs, blind, so we knew the vintage but not the closure. 

The results were surprising, though not conclusive. The 2011, still young and closed, showed best under screw cap. It was more open and bright. The 2009 and 2007 fared better under cork. 

The palates were livelier, there was more fruit flavour and the finish was cleaner. I wrongly guessed that the two wines were the screw caps – pre­judices about cork out of the window. 

Though the differences are only nuances, there is still a difference. When we aren’t given a choice, we don’t know any better. 

But the question is: are we trading quality for convenience? It wouldn’t be the only example. 

A tasting like this, though, is never going to answer that question, only raise it. 

To bust a myth, wine under screw cap does not last longer once open. It oxidises at the same rate as a wine closed with a cork. It is normally two to three days before the wine will go off, longer if it’s kept in a fridge. 

Here are my favourite two wines from the tasting: 

Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir 2009 (Cork): Juicy black fruit, grainy tannins, freshness and a flavour that builds and builds on the palate. 

Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir 2011 (Cork): Strawberries and raspberries, soft, plush tannins, mouth-filling and luscious. 

Paul Tudgay is the Queens­town Resort College business hospitality manager and a wine appreciation lecturer