Screw Top Wine – The wine bargain hunter’s curse

I am reposting this article that I initially published in 2012. It is all about how to open a screw-top bottle of wine. The interesting think about this video is its recent popularity. There are now over 42,000 views of the this YouTube video. I am surmising that the Coronavirus Pandemic is surging the sales of wines under the $20 range. This means more folks struggling with screw-top wines. Since the Shelter in Place, there has been a significant percentage increase in daily views of this education slide video. There is a definite trick to opening these bottles of wine. When done correctly, it is a piece of cake to open a screw-top bottle of wine.

Open that screw-top bottle of wine

I’m very old fashioned and sentimental when it comes to wine closures. Most of my 40-year career in wine drinking has involved opening wines with a real cork. I get a thrill each time I use my waiter’s corkscrew to open a bottle of wine. There is nothing like that popping sound when I pull the cork from the bottle. That sound has come to mean something very special to me, signifying that I am about to embark on a very pleasurable adventure. The unfortunate part of being a bargain wine hunter today is that many reasonably priced wines come with screw tops.

With a screw-top, there is less chance for a wine to go bad (corked), and the cost for the winery to use screw tops is less than for corks. Screw tops are excellent for wines that you are going to drink within a short period. Although some may argue with this, I do not believe that a bottle of wine with a screw top is going to improve sitting in your wine cellar for a of couple years. It will taste the same as the day you stuck it in the cellar or perhaps worse, but never better. No oxygen is going to pass through a screw top, so those subtle aging characteristics produced by a cork are not going to take place. Corks breathe, screw tops to not. I am not recommending that you shy away from purchasing wine with screw tops but that you are aware that these wines are to drink now. When you buy wine that comes with a screw top, be sure to drink it within a year.

Be sure you open the bottle correctly. There are a right way and a wrong way to open a screw-top bottle of wine. Several months back, I created a brief slide video showing the proper way to open a screw-top bottle of wine. For those of you that have trouble opening a screw-top bottle of wine, it is worth a view.

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  1. This is all well-and-good for a right hander.

    What can a left hander do?

    • Kris, One of three things: 1. Do the same as the right handed person does. 2. Just switch hand positions. 3. Don’t bother with screw tops.

      Thanks, Joe

  2. I think Stelvin caps still allow some air in although much smaller compared to cork. You just cannot store it lying down as the wine will stop whatever little air passes through. Reduction is the most common issue with Stelvins especially with Sauvignon Blancs but I a few swirls on the glass or a run through the aerator rejuvenates the wine.

  3. Re; Screw Top Wine – The wine bargain hunter’s curse.

    Having spent 35 years in the wine trade, I’m afraid I must take issue with your claims on the Stelvin closure. Particularly your claim that, “the cost for the winery to use screw tops is less than for corks.” when discussing “bargain wines”.

    The quality of cork used in low to medium priced wines is, in general, much lower than that used for wines that retail for $20+, these cheap corks cost a good deal less than using the Stelvin closure.

    In my experience the rate of “corked wines” in the under $10 category is in excess of 1 per case, which makes for much less of a bargain.

    I worked primarily at the wholesale level and saw first hand the number of customer returns at, quite literally, hundreds of retailers. If wine producers weren’t insulated from the actual spoilage rate by a distribution network designed to only flow in one direction, I believe most of them would switch to Stelvin, as they should. Not so much for the return rate, but for the unreturned TCA affected bottles and the customers that bought them.

    Many casual wine drinkers don’t realize the flaw that they are tasting is from the cork and assume that the wine is bad, and cross that producer off their list for future purchases. That might seem unfair, but to go through the effort needed to produce a good quality wine and, whether through ignorance or indifference, allow 10%+ of your customers to have a bad tasting experience, simply for cost concerns, is a bad business practice.

    Anyone truly concerned with helping people find ” Good Cheap Vino” should be pushing the industry to convert to Stelvin for any wines under $20. When factoring in pouring out a bad bottle or the hassle and cost of returning one for replacement, that bargain, you thought you just gotten, really isn’t much of one.

    For those worried about the “sustainable” cork industry, the current rate of usage is the major reason that cork quality has been deteriorating for the last two decades, a major factor in the current high spoilage rate. Producing in smaller quantities with higher quality, and thus higher prices, is the way back to sustainability and economic viability for the producers of cork.

    When choosing between the aesthetic value of the sound of a cork popping or not having to smell a bad bottle, rewash glasses, choose another wine for the occasion and then hassle with returning the bottle, I’d choose a Stelvin closure every time.

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