Get Screwed

Foodservice and Hospitality, April 2005

"Thirty three bucks for a screwcap?" might be the shocked response you fear if you list a quality wine sealed with a screwcap. But there are convincing reasons why restaurateurs shouldn't worry, and there's even a stylish way to open the bottles. The trend towards screwcaps started Down Under relatively recently. Contamination by trichloranisole, or TCA, a compound found in cork that causes wines to taste musty ("corked"), is a problem in 2 to 10% of wines. Mostly it's not too obvious, but sometimes the wine is undrinkable. In New Zealand, zero percent of wines were under screwcap in 2000; by 2004, 70% were.

VQA didn't permit screwcaps until 2004
In Canada, Vintner's Quality Alliance didn't permit the use of screwcaps on wines until March 2004, largely because of the "image problem" according to VQA Ontario director Laurie McDonald. Henry of Pelham introduced screwcaps on a reserve chardonnay, said Sales Director Daniel Speck, and they've sold well. Other Canadian wineries offering quality screwcap wines include Ontario's Malivoire and Flat Rock, and BC's Tinhorn Creek, Lotusland, and Blasted Church.

America's biggest rollout
California's RH Philips, owned by Vincor, launched America's biggest rollout of quality screwcap wines in 2004. Over 300,000 cases were released, and "sales have gone very well at the LCBO," said Director of Export Sales Steve Crosta, "up more than 75% over last year, and we've seen similar results in western Canada."

And restaurateurs selling pricier screwcap wines?At Toronto's Canoe, sommelier Ruben Elmer gets five corked bottles per day returned, so he's a fan of screwcaps. Over 30 are on the Canoe list, crowned by a 1998 Plumpjack Cabernet at $700 a bottle. Elmer said scewcaps are not an issue: "most people are indifferent." This exact sentiment was noted by Mark Taylor, BC's reigning Sommelier of the Year and owner of Vancouver's Cru, where about 5% of the list is under screwcap. "If the wines are sound, I'm a happy guy." Over at West on Granville Street, sommelier Jay Jones sells a lot of wine by the glass so his customers often don't know. Jones is happy about screwcaps, which he thinks are "really cool", and he's looking forward to not having to return two to three cases of corked wines each month. At Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar in Toronto, most wines are also sold by the glass - "we're not really opening many screwcapped bottles at the table," said sommelier Jamie Drummond. "It really does take the romance out of the dining experience to have someone come up and stick a screwcapped bottle in your face."

"Don't make a face"
It needn't be so, says Gilberto Bojaca of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers: "Present the wine to the customer and open it like it's a bottle of champagne. Do it with grace and flair - and don't make a face."

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