Cult Insider


Tradition meets innovation: The evolution and future of wine closures

Written by - Tom Gearing, Founder & CEO - Cult Wines

A Journey Through Time

For centuries, the sophisticated world of fine wine has been tightly sealed with the embrace of corks. This humble piece of tree bark has been the gatekeeper of many treasured vintages, holding within it tales of vineyards, labour, and vintage variations. My journey through the wine industry, which began professionally in 2009, intertwined with memories from the late-90s courtesy of my father, has brought me face-to-face with the nuances of this seemingly straightforward choice: cork or screwcap?

The Science of Sealing

Before delving into the intricacies of personal experiences and market insights, it’s essential to understand the science behind wine closures. Both corks and screwcaps serve the same primary purpose: preserving the quality and integrity of the wine inside the bottle. However, the mechanisms through which they achieve this are different.

Cork, being a natural product, has a cellular structure that allows for tiny amounts of oxygen transfer into the bottle, a phenomenon known as 'micro-oxygenation.' This slow ingress of oxygen is believed to play a role in the maturation of wine, allowing it to develop and evolve over time. However, this very feature also makes it susceptible to variations. A faulty or compromised cork can allow too much air, leading to oxidation, or worse, become a breeding ground for TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole), a compound responsible for the dreaded 'corked' wine.

On the other hand, screwcaps, especially the modern ones, are designed to offer a virtually airtight seal, eliminating the risks associated with TCA and oxidation. The liner inside the screwcap, often made of a material called 'Saranex,' acts as a barrier to oxygen, ensuring minimal oxygen transfer. This design ensures consistency from bottle to bottle, a factor that’s sometimes elusive with corks. But it presents an intriguing question for fine wine producers, how does a bottle of wine age under screwcap in ten, twenty or even fifty years’ time!

In Praise of Corks

The allure of corks isn't merely technical. It's symbolic. The ceremonious pop of a cork being removed carries a legacy, a tradition that dates back centuries. In many ways, it's akin to opening a time capsule. The world of Michelin star dining has capitalized on this theatre. A beautifully aged cork presented on a silver tray signifies more than just the wine; it represents an era, a history, and the passage of time.

In the intriguing labyrinth of wine culture, there exists a niche, almost cult-like subset of aficionados for whom the wine's experience begins even before the first sip. For them, the cork isn't just a stopper; it's a prologue to the wine's tale. With a fervour reminiscent of art connoisseurs studying a masterpiece, they scrutinize its texture, age, and any minute details inscribed upon it, seeking clues about the wine's past. A ritualized sniff can elicit a symphony of comments, a discourse on the cork's merits or flaws, setting the stage for the conversation that ensues once the wine itself is tasted. It's a dance of sensory exploration and camaraderie, underscoring the fact that for many, the joy of wine lies as much in the chatter and geeky analysis as in the actual drinking.

But, as with all romances, there are heartbreaks. My personal trysts with white Burgundies from the 2000s serve as painful reminders. The gamble with cork often leads to disappointment. Bottles, which hold within them the promise of a beautiful tasting experience, sometimes end up being poured down the drain, victims to the inconsistencies of their closures. In moments like these, one can't help but wonder: don't wine enthusiasts who invest so heavily in these pleasures deserve better?

The Rise of Screwcaps

The 21st century brought with it a challenger to the throne: the screwcap. No longer just the preserve of inexpensive wines, these closures started gaining traction in regions like New Zealand, which dared to question convention. The advantages were clear and manifold: elimination of cork taint, consistent aging, and reduced wastage.

My recent experience with a 2009 Felton Road Pinot Noir, a leading New Zealand wine bottled under screwcap, was eye-opening. A wine aged under this closure retains its youthfulness and energy, whilst still exuding softer more mature characteristics associated with an aged wine, challenging the widely held notion that wines under screwcap don't age as well. It may be true that the evolution is slower, or perhaps retains a slightly different aspect, but on this occasion it was an exciting and intriguing showing which left me wanting more.

However, the industry's hesitation is palpable. The association with cheaper wines, the perceived inability for long-term aging, and the concern about brand image and consumer perception create reluctance. Yet, when a New Zealand Chardonnay (Bell Hill) under screwcap not only held its ground but also outshone its counterparts in a blind tasting I hosted in New York, it became evident that the narrative was shifting.

Trends and Transformations

As the world evolves, the fine wine industry too stands on the brink of a revolution. There's a discernible hesitance among traditionalists, of course. Can a wine sealed with a screwcap truly match the grandeur of one with a cork?

But with every passing year, as more evidence emerges and as renowned wineries start experimenting with alternative closures, these voices of scepticism are becoming softer. Chateau Margaux’s exploration of screwcaps, even if just for research, is a testament to the changing times.

Visions of the Future

The landscape of wine appreciation is evolving, and the next decade promises to be transformational. Enter the new generation of wine enthusiasts: a cohort that marries passion with pragmatism. These modern drinkers are not just influenced by taste and aroma, but also by the environmental and ethical footprint of their wines. They value sustainability, ethics, and quality, often placing these above the romanticism of age-old traditions. For instance, the trend towards organic and biodynamic wines, as well as a surge in demand for transparent labelling, echoes this change in consumer priorities. This generational pivot isn't merely a fleeting phase; it's a sign of evolving values that challenge long-held beliefs in the wine world.

Moreover, as concerns about climate change intensify, this new generation is more receptive to innovations that reduce the carbon footprint, even if it means breaking from tradition. A bottle closed with a screwcap, which is easily recyclable and ensures consistency, might appeal more to this eco-conscious demographic than one sealed with a cork that has a chance of compromising the wine.

Innovations in wine closures aren't limited to screwcaps. There's a growing interest in alternative closures like DIAM, a technical cork made from natural cork granules, cleaned to remove TCA (the compound responsible for 'cork taint'). DIAM ensures consistency in oxygen transfer rates, marrying the benefits of traditional cork and technological advancements. Notable wine producers, like Louis Roederer, have embraced DIAM closures for some of their wines, signalling an industry-wide openness to evolution. DIAM closures, with their blend of tradition and technological innovation, tend to be more expensive for producers than the simpler and widely-adopted screwcaps.

In addition to DIAM, other composite materials are being tested and adopted by various vineyards, highlighting the industry's proactive approach to addressing the imperfections of traditional corks. While there's reverence for the past, there's also an unmistakable excitement about the future. And as this future unfurls, it will be shaped as much by technological and scientific advances as by the values and preferences of the next generation of wine aficionados.

Concluding Thoughts

While my personal memories are steeped in the charm of corks, I find the potential of screwcaps and other modern closures such as DIAM invigorating. For new wineries, this could be an era of differentiation, of carving a unique identity. After all, isn't wine about evolution, about capturing the essence of time in a bottle? As we move forward, perhaps the debate will shift from the type of closure to the quality of the elixir within. Because in the end, it's the symphony of flavours, aromas, and experiences that truly defines a great wine.


News in brief

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Gusbourne Toasts to Charity with Drinks Trust

The British winemaker, Gusbourne, has unveiled a special bottle of its 2014 Blanc de Blancs, with a portion of the sales revenue set to support The Drinks Trust. Gusbourne aims to assist people from the drinks industry facing economic hardship due to the pandemic. The move not only showcases the company's superior winemaking prowess but also their commitment to aid the industry workforce during tough times.

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Bon Jovi's Bombshell: Hampton Water Rosé

Hampton Water Rosé, the acclaimed wine venture by music icon Jon Bon Jovi and his son Jesse, is winning the hearts of wine lovers globally. Garnering an impressive 90-points rating on its first vintage, this South of France Rosé captivates with its refined, fresh and bright flavours, providing an unrivalled homage to the Southern France Art de Vivre.

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Global Drinks Giants Brace for 'Richcession'

In North America, major drinks companies like Beam Suntory and Diageo are grappling with challenges due to rising inflation and decelerating sales. The 'Richcession' phenomenon, affecting affluent US consumers, may alter premium beverage consumption. Additionally, China, another pivotal market, presents similar challenges. These combined pressures result in stagnant sales figures and a more conservative industry forecast.


Tom Turner, Director of Strategy & Operations, CultX - Cult Wines - Ulysse-Collin Les Maillons Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut (2017 base)

What we’re drinking

Ulysse-Collin Les Maillons Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut (2017 base)

Tom Turner, Director of Strategy & Operations, CultX - Cult Wines

  • • A 'non-vintage' blockbuster that demonstrates incredible complexity and balance. The nose lends a hint of toastiness with mild citrus notes and stone fruit. The palate is full-bodied with intense concentration and layers of fruit and acidity while retaining it's crisp freshness.

  • • Despite the abundance of flavours, there's not a hint of sweetness, this is extra, extra-brut with 4g/l dosage. The style with savoury character pairs beautifully with fresh fish, seafood and, on this particular occasion, buratta with burnt nectarine and candied walnuts.

  • • Many of the hyped grower Champagnes can have a reputation and - subsequently - a price tag that's impossible to live up to. Les Maillons, however, is far from one of those and when considering the quality alongside the microscopic 3,000 bottle-production, it seems rather great value!


Our fine wine feature

Wine on ice: A refreshing twist

Written by - Olivia Bodle, Head of Global Events - Cult Wines

In the bustling world of wines, there's always room for innovation and exploration.

Traditional narratives around wine consumption are steeped in strict dos and don'ts. Among these debated practices is the act of popping ice into wine. Is it truly a faux-pas? Let's explore.

Picture this: a sweltering summer afternoon with a desire for a refreshing drink. Enter Moët Ice Impérial Champagne. The signature serve dictates pouring it over ice, this sparkling gem dances on the palate, boasting fruity notes and a revitalising finish. While some might raise an eyebrow at ice in wine (and raise two eyebrows at ice in Champagne), a chilled glass of this sparkling delight could make many reconsider.

Considering fuller-bodied whites, they are at their best when only slightly chilled. This makes a big, bold Chardonnay not the best drink for most parched wine-lovers on a scorching day?

The answer lies in lighter-bodied whites that are at their best when well chilled.

Wine on ice: A refreshing twist

Albarino and Gavi, when cooled to perfection, maintain their unique profiles, offering a crisp and quenching drink for those blazing summer days.

When it comes to chilling red wines, the choice of variety is paramount. The ideal pick would be a wine with low tannins and medium alcohol content. Beaujolais (from the Gamay grape) is the quintessential red to chill down for a summer BBQ. The signature Austrian red grape, Zweigelt is lovely when serve chilled. Etna Rosso from Graci, a distinctive red from the slopes of Sicily, stands out as something even more off-the-beaten-track. When cooled on ice, its lighter body and vibrant flavours emerge delightfully.

For those who are wary of the diluting effects of traditional ice cubes, there's a solution. Metal ice cubes, a favourite among whisky connoisseurs, ensure optimal cooling without the risk of dilution.

In the spirit of challenging norms and discovering new delights, here's an invitation to explore the expansive world of wines with a refreshing twist. Embrace the coolness, and cheers to invigorating, icy sips! Looking forward to more "cooler" discussions about wines. Until the next exploration, keep the spirit of adventure alive!


Explore & travel

Sippin’ in Santorini

Written by - Lauren Delahoy, CRM Manager - Cult Wines

Santorini, an island known for its romantic sunset, whitewashed houses with blue domed roof and its history. But what many may not know is that a century ago the entire island was a vineyard and is still home to some of the oldest vines in the world. Today, the island has around 1,000 ha of vineyards and is home to over 20 wineries. With this many wineries, it would be rude not to visit and try some of the local wine.

The vineyards of Santorini are certainly unique to what you’d find in the regions of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, with their basket technique to protect the grapes from the strong winds of the sea, and its limited rainfall throughout the year, you find yourself in utter ore as to the man hours that goes into maintaining and harvesting these vines that produce such a unique and earthy taste.

I was fortunate enough to be able to taste a vast variety of different wines from various vineyards, from exquisite dry whites to full flavoured dessert wines that had been barrelled for over 16 years. My favourite from the entire experience being the Mavrotragano, with its aromas of red fruits, bitter chocolate, smoke and minerality.

Sippin’ in Santorini

So much so, that I may have taken a few bottles home with me.

The knowledge and the passion of those who live and breathe through these vineyards in Santorini was inspirational. I highly recommend to anyone that visits this picturesque island to view and taste some of the incredible wine that it has to offer. You’ll certainly have a taste of culture whilst seeing some breathtaking views.


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