550 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 4 JULY 2020
mendation of six months or less in the bottle. So they work for fresh whites
bottled for quick consumption.
Again, however, these constructed corks can degrade and spoil the wine,
though they avoid the problem of TCA taint.
Technology has come to the rescue with other alternatives. There are
many ways to seal a beverage, and these days they are all being explored by
One is the synthetic “cork”. Synthetic corks are made from either petroleum
based plastic or plant-based materials. Plastic corks are generally of
polyethylene, a malleable material that is melted down and turned into
“foam” that imitates the porousness of natural cork. Plant-based stoppers
are made similarly but use bio-polyethylene, a bio-based plastic made from
ethylene, a byproduct of processing renewable raw materials like sugarcane.
They come in every colour of the rainbow. Their advantage is the
avoidance of mould and “corkiness”. Their disadvantage is a lack of pliability.
If the tolerance between the bottle neck and synthetic cork is insufficiently
tight, disaster awaits. And if you have ever opened a bottle with one,
you have experienced how difficult it can be to draw it out, and how impossible
to use it as a stopper after. So while there was a rise in their use about
a decade ago, from my observation they are less often used in recent years.
Instead, knowledgeable winemakers found their answer in an old
standby of those wines of our misbegotten youth: screwtops. The reason is
simple. The screwtop is the perfect way to close a bottle. It is pretty much
airtight, and it is not made of cork. The most widely used is the Stelvin closure.
Externally it is made of a non-corroding metal (usually an aluminum
alloy), and internally it is lined with expanded polyethylene, tin (to stop oxidation)
and PVDC to provide an inert seal for the wine. Another type is
known as the TOPP (torqued-on pilfer-proof) screwcap closure, a most
interesting name if ever there was one. Say it quickly ten times, preferably
before you sample the wines noted below. With the TOPP, the threads are
concealed on the inside of the capsule, giving it a smooth finish externally.
Stelvin closures have been around for a few decades. In 1964, Peter Wall,
former director of the South Australian winery Yalumba, became fed up
with the number of tainted corks in circulation. He commissioned a French
company to develop an alternative closure. It did, but the Stelvin was not
patented or used commercially until the late 1970s. Australian and New
Zealand wineries were among the first to use them on a wide scale, and they
are now widespread in the U.S. and Canada, though less so in Europe.
But what of the mystique of wine, the satisfying “pop” as the cork is
slowly withdrawn? Well, putting aside the somewhat sexual overtones that