Coming Uncorked

By: Roderick Reed
By: Roderick Reed

Change is the trend these days. Fashion changes regularly as manufactures strive to bring something new to shelves each season. In my line of work as an interior designer I am presented with a color forecast regularly. These are the colors expected to be trending. Even politicians often run on a platform of “change.”

Some things should be stable. One of the great unchanged things is the way we open a bottle of wine. Wine should have corks. The cork is what makes wine different from all the other beverages. About a decade ago large commercial winemakers in Australia and New Zealand started using screw caps on their wines. Corks are imperfect and some of the wine can be expected to be lost. Basically screw caps are used for economic reasons. But the cork itself has an important role in wines unique allure. The screw cap damages an important aspect of the wine drinking experience.

It’s a spring day, blue sky, perfect ocean view. You are with your wife or girlfriend having a picnic. Lunch is on the blanket. You catch a hint of jasmine in the air while under the shade of a newly leafed tree. Earth, Wind and Fire plays softly from the iPod. The glasses chime against one another, they wait to be filled with the liquid sunshine. She smiles as the anticipation builds. She is beautiful. Sun backlights her hair as birds start to sing. The time is right; you reach for the bottle to open it.

With an awkward and somewhat strained twist of the wrist you grimace as you turn the cap on your screw cap wine. The cap makes a rude crackling sound. You’re surprised at how loud it is. You are too distracted by the thin, metallic fart sound to notice you have ruined the moment. Your distraction is compounded by the slap you receive for having ruined a perfect moment. The swift slap causes you to roll down the hill from Alta Laguna Park. “After the Love has gone” starts to play on the iPod but you can’t hear it as you die on the cactus some 200 feet below.

One of the pleasures of wine is the opening the bottle. Ah, that sound. The pop of the cork. That’s something you don’t get with screw caps. Opening wine has been the same for your parents and grandparents and for generations. The special tools required make opening wine a tableside presentation. A deft hand using the traditional wine opening technique can impress a girl. Dining at a restaurant is less enjoyable when the sommelier comes to the table and instead of elegantly uncorking the wine simply gives the bottle a twist and slops the wine into your glass. The screw cap has degraded opening wine to the level of emptying a plastic bottle of Barq’s. The screw cap upends the ritual of uncorking. It’s the ceremony of opening a corked bottle that is a crucial part of wine drinking appeal.

This has been an ongoing disagreement between me and one of our closest friends for years. To emphasize my point I made practice of quietly not drinking any wine that our friends brought over that had a screw cap. He resorted to trying to trick me with tactics like decanting the wine before I could see the bottle. I always knew though.

I understand some winemakers like the screw caps because it keeps the bottle sealed and does not allow oxygen to enter the bottle. Bigger, fuller malt-filled wines, for example cabernet, benefit from a little oxygen that the cork naturally allows the wine to intake while in the bottle. This is important in aging, the little bit of oxygen can help improve the taste. My compromise is that white wine is acceptable from a screw top bottle but reds should be corked. This works for me as my wife and I are red wine drinkers. I did notice that the “Housewives of Orange County” on TV really like cheap white wine. Their screw-top pinot grigio won’t bother their French manicures while opening.

I beg winemakers to leave things the way they are. If saving money or conserving cork is the aim than let’s use synthetic cork. Winemakers are slowly damaging their brand. They are taking away the romance and mystique, making wine just another of the many beverages consumers are asked to choose between. Sometimes change can have unintended consequence. Remember when Coca-Cola embraced change years ago?


Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack.


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