Nothing tops a bottle of wine quite like this

Wineries trading corks for screw caps

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Jamie Jenny, sommelier at one of Steamboat's most elegant restaurants, loves screw-cap wine.

"I think you should use a screw cap with everything consumed in the first seven years," said Jenny of L'Apogee. "I have no problem with it at all. I think they remove some of the romance of it, but what are you going to do?"

A growing number of bottles with screw caps are showing up in area stores, as wineries search for a practical way to protect their product.

Cork, the traditional material used to seal wine bottles for more than a millennium, is susceptible to a bacteria called TCA, or trichloranisole.

TCA isn't known to harmhumans, but the bacteria costs the wine industry $100 million annually, according to an article printed in Wine News.

Vino owner Mike Kirlan estimates 6 percent to 8 percent of wine produced is tainted with TCA.

At its lowest level, TCA makes a wine taste flat, but an average consumer wouldn't recognize it. At its highest level, TCA ruins the bottle. The industry calls this a "corked" bottle.

"It smells distinctly like wet cardboard or wet, rotten newspaper," said Kirlan of a bottle tainted by TCA. "You can identify it immediately. It has a very off-putting smell and deteriorates the fruit flavor of wine. Sometimes, you'll open a bottle, and you'll know it's corked."

Kirlan saw his first screw cap five years ago. Vino is stocking more wines with screw caps, though Jenny is confident the cork doesn't face extinction.

"Not a chance," he said. "There are those who don't want to deal with screw caps. They find it offensive."

Wine industry officials, on the other hand, have found the damage TCA does to their product so offensive they are willing to look past more than a thousand years of tradition to find an economic solution.

"I believe you should let a wine age 10 to 30 years, but we just don't know if a screw cap is better," Jenny said. "We haven't had a good bottle of wine with a screw cap that's been around long enough. It could very well be better."

Vino sells several moderately priced wines -- $50 to $60 per bottle -- with screw caps, bucking the myth that the alternative top is a convenience for cheap wine. One of the best wines is a pinot noir (red) from Loring Wind Co.

"He makes very, very good quality wine," Kirlan said. "Every single wine he makes he puts under screw cap."

Wines from Australia and New Zealand most commonly feature screw caps, and white wines are more commonly put under screw cap than red.

"White wines are generally consumed quicker than reds," Jenny said.

Gail Wiltshire, wine director for the upcoming Steamboat Wine Festival, highlighted two prestigious wineries that are or will feature screw caps on very expensive bottles of wine. The Plumpjack Winery in Napa Valley, and Australia's top producer of fine wine, Penfolds.

"There's becoming more and more acceptance," Kirlan said. "There is still a little bit of resistance. The perception is (screw cap) is for a cheap wine. It's just an issue of educating consumers. It never implicates the quality of wine."

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