Wine bottle caps increasingly damaged, expert Alison Eisermann-Ctercteko says, with bad results for taste

by Matthew Doran, November 30, 2013

It is a debate that has divided wine connoisseurs everywhere: cork or screw cap?

The use of corks can lead to cork taint but new research has found that more than 20 per cent of screw cap wine bottles end up with damaged caps, which can in turn cause chemical changes in wine.

Wine expert Alison Eisermann-Ctercteko says cork taint used to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

"When it's at high levels, it's really quite unattractive. So the wine smells like mouldy leather or the back of the cupboard where you find those sort of sports bag and shoes," she said.

"And the wine won't have much fruit flavour."

Ms Eisermann-Ctercteko undertook a self-funded study of screw cap wine bottles across 22 stores in New South Wales, visually inspecting the tops for damage.

"All different sizes, in different suburbs, looking from quite small boutique, very specialist retailers, to large warehouse-type retailers," she said.

"In total I surveyed over 10,000 wines in Australia, and I did about another 2,000 in the UK."

She found 26 per cent of the caps received some level of damage on the shop floor, either when bottles were unpacked and shelves stocked, or when customers handled them.

Of the damaged caps, 8.2 per cent were severe enough to cause chemical changes in the wine, similar to taint levels seen when corks were the norm.

She says it is highly likely those results would be consistent in bottles across Australia, but the news is not all bad.

"Really on a majority of wines it's very successful, particularly white wines and aromatic wines, and the styles that we like to drink early," she said,

"So some of our chardonnays, rieslings, sauvignon blancs, and even our younger red styles have done really well."

Ms Eisermann-Ctercteko says Australia has led the world in the uptake of screw caps.

"[In] 2001 we were using one per cent of screw caps, and by 2008 we're looking at about 90 per cent," she said.

Wine maker finds 'very little problems' with screw caps

Taylors Wines managing director Mitchell Taylor says he first trialled screw caps in 2000 and was using them across his entire range by 2004.

"We were finding that at least 10 per cent of all our wines were having this awful TCA (246 trichloranisole) cork taint on them and were not ageing properly in the long term," he said.

"Our wines have been more pure, higher quality, and our customers have loved them, and we have had very little problems with it."

Mr Taylor says he is surprised by the study's findings. In his opinion, word would have filtered through if the issue was that serious.

Peter Godden, from the industry-funded Australian Wine Research Institute, says anecdotal evidence he has received from retailers does not suggest such high levels of damage.

"The retailers I spoke to said the most common issue was caused by them when they opened boxes, dozen boxes with a craft knife, and often will score across the top," he said.

"Aesthetically not very good but of no issue in terms of wine quality."

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