Closure on the closure

Italy seems to be the whipping boy when it comes to alternatives to cork, unfairly we think. Italy has been at the forefront of exploring cork alternatives for decades, it’s just unfortunate that they stuck with those brightly coloured synthetic stoppers for so long. No wonder sommeliers hated them – they could break a Laguiole waiter’s friend in seconds.

You know that the tide is turning when Santadi, one of Italy’s leading wineries (and a Sardinian co-op no less), is considering using screwcap for their 2010 Vermentino. Recently, Isole e Olena’s flagship Cepparello has finally made its way to Australia under screwcap, and I hear that the wine is fantastic (must go out and get a bottle). It is profile wineries such as these that will convert more and more producers to offer screwcap.

Having said that, this being Italy, it is not that simple. DOCG regulations only permit cork – end of story. Whilst there are some DOCG wines that would, in our opinion, be much better under screwcap (think Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Gavi in particular) it is a long, long way off. The real action is in the DOC and IGT categories.

For IGT it is easy (see Cepparello above) but things get a little tricky when it comes to DOC, where permission to use screwcap is almost on a case by case basis. Here are two examples: when Umani Ronchi wanted to bottle their Verdicchio Villa Bianchi under screwcap, it took twelve months of lobbying the DOC for permission, and even then it was only granted with a caveat – they had to remove the word Superiore from Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC. Given that Superiore is arguably the most useless classification in Italian wine law, it was readily dropped. In the Veneto, Pieropan became the first quality producer in the region to bottle their Soave under screwcap, beginning with the 2008 vintage. Again, it came with a caveat. It could no longer be called Classico, (an important classification) despite the wine being exactly the same as the one they bottled under cork.

The other two issues are demand and cost and the above wines are popular in both the domestic (Italian) market and abroad. Domestically, Italians regard wines under screwcap as inferior, much the same as we did here in Australia when it was first trialled. Internationally there are actually very few markets demanding screwcaps. This last point might shock Australian drinkers – not all wine around the world is bottled under screwcap! Both Umani Ronchi and Pieropan still sell these wines under cork for the Italian market. In a sign of change, this year Pieropan bottled their 375ml bottles of Soave under screwcap only, offering to personally collect any orders that customers wanted to return. Many complained, but changed their mind after tasting the wine.

Finally, Italy is mostly a nation of small wineries and, for them, it is simply cost prohibitive to switch from cork. Mobile bottling trucks are uncommon (unlike Australia) and nearly all wineries estate-bottle (unlike Australia), so the cost to a small winery, on several levels, is high.

And just for the record, with a portfolio of 144 wines from 48 wineries – we have 24 in screwcap, 13 in Diam, 2 in Nomacork and 1 in Vinolok.