Wine Buzz: UCD study to compare corks vs. screw caps

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3D

For those about to drink, we salute you. Just came across two bottles of AC/DC wine – 2008 Highway to Hell Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Thunderstruck Chardonnay – which were released recently by the long-running rock band.

We'll report back next week on how these rock star wines stack up. But besides the labels, which reference classic AC/DC albums, the first thing you'll notice about these wines are the closures. Like many Australian wines, both of these bottles use screw caps instead of a cork.

For many wine drinkers, the sight of a screw cap just about signals the cheap stuff, but that's not always the case. They've become increasingly popular with winemakers around the world for decreasing the chances of flawed wine.

Oxygen is the enemy of wine, which in sustained amounts can lead to degradation in taste and color. Unlike corks, a screw cap won't let any oxygen into the bottle. A screw cap also ensures that a wine won't be "corked," that is, a cork tainted by the chemical compound TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) which leads to musty wine and your hard-earned money going down the drain.

Does a bottle of screw cap wine age as gracefully as a bottle with a cork? Do screw caps trap unpleasant hydrogen sulfide aromas that might otherwise be vented by porous corks?

These wine closure issues are the focus of a two-year study being conducted by the University of California, Davis, in partnership with the PlumpJack Group, a wine company that uses both screw caps and corks in its premium bottlings.

The study, "Bottle Aging – Closure and Variability Study," will compare the effectiveness of cork, screw cap and synthetic cork wine closures. Bottles of 2011 CADE Sauvignon Blanc will be used for the study, which utilizes in-bottle oxygen sensors, spectral analysis, tasting and other methods to determine the results.

"While natural corks have been used effectively for thousands of years, they are no longer a sustainable method of closure," said Andrew Waterhouse, professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis, in a statement about the study. "With this study, we hope to scientifically analyze the effectiveness of other closure methods and thereby to provide information and direction for the industry."

Findings from the study are expected to be published at the end of 2013. We're looking forward to learning how this all turns out. Meanwhile, in the words of AC/DC, have a drink on me.

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