From Corks to Screw-On Caps – Wine Is Full of Surprises

If you are a wine enthusiast you’ve probably noticed that screw-on caps are no longer only used on cheap wines. More and more often bottles of really good wine are being unscrewed, rather than uncorked.

How Did the Screw-On Cap Trend Begin?

Believe it or not, screw-ons have been on the market since the late 1950s. Although back then they were generally associated with cheap plonk, and a fine winemaker would by no means let such a cap anywhere near his/her brand. It was only in the early 2000s when Australian winemakers decided to put practicality before prestige and started using screw-on caps for high-end bottles of wine as well. It is cheaper, and surprisingly has additional merits as well…

Science Seals the Deal

Some winemakers prefer the screw-on method for wines that are meant to be drunk young like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The screw-on caps provide a better seal than cork and keep oxygen out of the bottle, which ensures a well-preserved and crisp wine. Chardonnays and red wines, on the other hand, are of a heavier, fuller and a little more complex nature. As such, they could actually benefit from a slight presence of oxygen, and so corks may be a better choice for them. The extra air softens the tannin through oxidization and makes the wine smoother in taste and texture. However, not all winemakers agree with this approach.

Screw-On Resistance

Some sommeliers argue that screw-on caps don’t allow for calculated levels of ‘oxygen ingress’, while real corks are variable with oxygen ingress rates. There is also the cultural issue – while certain wine lovers may enjoy the quick and easy process of opening a screw-on capped bottle, traditionalists strongly argue that opening a bottle of good wine with a corkscrew is part of the wine drinking ritual. With wine it is hard and maybe even wrong to separate between product, experience and history. For some it is the actual wine that matters more than the packaging, and for others the ceremony is as important as the taste. Whether you opt for this change or against it, it cannot be denied, screw-on caps are here to stay, as are synthetic corks and even boxed and canned wines, but that’s a debate that deserves a blog-post of its own.

Plan the perfect dinner by learning how to pair wines

Wine Pairing is a Bit Like Baking a Good Cake

Just like a pinch of salt is vital to bringing out the flavour of a cake, it is also essential to have the right wine with the right food to get the taste experience just right. Here are a few guidelines to bear in mind when pairing food and wine.

1. Prestigious with Prestigious, Humble with Humble
The first and most important principle is simply to have fancy wines with fancy food, and to have simpler wines with simpler foods. There is absolutely no need to have a pricey Pinot Noir with a ham and pickle sandwich. Conversely, having expensive tenderloin on the menu may present the perfect opportunity to open that bottle of lush Bordeaux you have been saving.

2. Delicate Flavours vs. Bold Flavours
Again, the idea is to match the wine to the food, and that means taking the flavour into consideration as well. A robust Shiraz could beautifully balance a bold curry, while it would overwhelm a delicate sole au gratin.

3. Contrast or Mirror?
In some cases, you may want to create a taste sensation by mirroring flavours. For example, a Chardonnay with creamy seafood pasta. At other times, it works better going in opposite directions, juxtaposition in food can be exciting and delectable. Seafood pasta can also be enjoyed with something sleek, crisp, and tingling like Champagne.

4. Go for Something Flexible
Chardonnay is delicious on its own, but is so full-bodied that it could taste dull and hard with certain foods. If you are uncertain, go with a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc to be safe. The most flexible reds are Burgundy, Chianti, and other wines that have more fruit and less tannin.

5. Fruity with Fruityfruits
When serving dishes that contain fruit, like duck with figs or pork with apples and cider, pair with fruity wines such as Muscat or Riesling.

6. Acidity and Saltiness
Salty food works well with the acidity in wine. Imagine how well Champagne would pair with smoked salmon or a good Chianti with Parmesan cheese. Asian dishes with a lot of salty soy sauce go particularly well with wines that are high in acidity like Riesling.

7. Sweetness and Saltiness
Pairing salty dishes with sweeter wines can create a delicious fusion of flavours. This is what has made the old European tradition of serving salty Stilton cheese with sweet Port so successful.

8. High-Fat Food and Robust Wines
Food with a lot of butter, cream, or animal fat needs an intense and rich wine. Good quality Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon works particularly well with dishes like grilled steak with creamy sauce, or duck.

9. What about Umami?
Known as the fifth taste in addition to sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness, umami is being used more often in contemporary cuisine with flavours from foods like soy sauce and wild mushrooms. Adding umami heightens the overall experience, so adding wild mushrooms to a steak with Cabernet Sauvignon further enriches an already sensational pairing.

10. Watch out for the Sweet Stuff
When pairing wine with desserts, consider the level of sweetness. The sweetness of the dessert could easily knock out the character of the wine, and a very sweet dessert can cause wine to taste dull. The ideal marriage is between a reasonably sweet wine, and a slightly less sweet dessert like a fruit or nut tart.

Food and Wine Bliss

Finally, in addition to observing these guidelines, the best route to successful pairing is through experimentation, which is also the most enjoyable way to learn this particular skill.