Learning to love the screwtop wine bottle


BORDEAUX — Screwtop wine bottle closures have recently gained significant ground in New World wines and are now coming to Europe, like it or not.

In New Zealand, 90 percent of wine production is already screwcapped and making its way to market. Australia is at 60 percent, and California is not far behind. In Switzerland, nearly 100 percent is screwtopped.

Other producers – including a few French growers — are beginning to see the screwtop as the future.

Two-week screwtop trials have been carried out recently at Carrefour in Paris, Lille and Bordeaux, says Bruno de Saizieu, marketing and commercial director at Alcan Packaging Capsules, the main producer of the screwtop closure. The consumers were happy with the change but the distributors still aren’t sure, according to his research. Yet worldwide, he says, screwtop capping has expanded from 300 million bottles in 2003 to an estimated 2 billion bottles last year.


In France, Chateau d’Agassac in the Médoc has led the way but only caps 10-15 percent in screwtops. Most of that goes for export, to countries where wine culture is less rooted in the past. “Things will evolve, but it will take more time in France,” says Jean-Luc Zell, managing director of Agassac. Italy and Spain have also been slow to adapt.

Dozens of studies have been launched in the past six or seven years to try to resolve the debate over how best to cap wine. Screwtoppers cite the faults of the cork. It is accepted that about 5 percent of cork-bottled wine develops a corky taste and needs to be dumped.

Scientists disagree over how much oxygen exchange takes place to speed the aging of wine, so that issue is still being debated in the industry. What is clear from scientific studies is that the screwtop ensures that all bottles of a given vintage will be identical, and it solves the problem of corky taste.

Despite the pro-screwtop arguments, many wine purists just don’t want to let go of the cork. Said one wine writer: “This is simply the beginning of the end of Western civilization.”

Michael Johnson is an international journalist based in Bordeaux contributing frequently to the International Herald Tribune. He is author of four books, including “French Resistance: The individual versus the company in French corporate life”, and “Workaholism: The plague of our time”.

Notre « homme à Bordeaux » est le journaliste international Michael Johnson. Auteur de quatre livres, dont « French Resistance » et « Workaholism », il collabore fréquemment à l’IHT.