Why don’t these wines have screwcaps?

scewcapsThe Wine Curmudgeon has been tasting mostly red wine this month, and especially cabernet sauvignon, in an effort to get more wines that I don’t normally drink on the blog. Quality, even around $10, has been surprisingly good, but there has been one major disappointment. Not only do most of the wines have corks instead of screwcaps, but they come in heavy, old-fashioned bottles.

Which raises the question, which I’ve raised before and which is worth raising again: Why don’t these popularly-priced wines use screwcaps and come in lighter bottles? That would make the wines less expensive to produce, lower their carbon footprint, increase profit, and even possibly lower cost. And neither would affect quality.

Consider: The bottle for a 2003 white Burgundy — about as high end as wine gets — weighs 22 ounces and is closed with a cork. The bottle for the $5 Rene Barbier wines, closed with a screwcap, weighs 14 ounces. Yet most of the producers whose wines I’ve tasted use some kind of cork and unnecessarily heavy bottles, often closer to the white Burgundy than the Barbier. Some examples:

• The $11 Pigmentum malbec from France, 19 ounces, artificial cork.

• The $12 Errazauriz cabernet sauvignon from Chile, 15 ounces, screwcap. Ironically, the producer recently changed bottles, cutting the weight by 12 1/2 percent. Otherwise, it would be 17 ounces.

• The $12 Josh Cellars cabernet sauvignon from California, 22 ounces, natural cork.

• The $16 Bonterra zinfandel from California, 23 ounces, artificial cork. The irony? That Bonterra is one of the best selling green wine brands in the country.

• The $17 Downton Abbey claret from France, 19 ounces, natural cork.

In these cases, sadly, appearance is all. The Downton Abbey is the most obvious example, but even the others work from the assumption that consumers expect quality wine to come in heavy bottles with some kind of cork. We can argue forever about screwcaps vs. corks, but the one thing that isn’t in debate is that screwcaps are perfectly acceptable for most of the wine we drink. And there is absolutely no debate about the bottle. This isn’t 1890, when bottle weight mattered, protecting the wine from the perils of 19th century shipping. Lighter weight, given today’s bottle technology, is just as effective. Fifty million cases of Two-buck Chuck are proof of that.

Obviously, what’s in the bottle matters most. At some point, though, the bottle and closure itself is going to matter, whether producers believe it or not.

14 thoughts on “Why don’t these wines have screwcaps?

  • By Steve McIntosh -

    I’m with you that screw caps are a good thing. But in defense of producers, a couple of considerations:
    – The switch from cork to stelvin is costly. You’ve got to rip out a big section (which may or may not yet be fully depreciated) of your bottling line and replace it with new, expensive equipment. The savings will come back to you, but I’ve heard that it’s a long ROI period even for medium-sized shops.
    – A lot of producers rent bottling lines (mobile or as part of custom crush facilities) and they don’t always get exactly what they want. I picked up a bottle of Rene Barbier red this week (great reco, by the way) and it was under cork. I’m guessing they’re churning out so much of that stuff on a regular basis that if they screw cap line is down, what the heck, they revert to cork until the screw cap line is back up.

    As for glass, well, I’m sure some focus group correlated weight with quality and then the bean counters said, “Hey! We can charge $3.00 more per bottle and it’ll only cost us 26 cents more to produce and ship.” Nice to see that Pepperwood and others are experimenting with alternative packaging. It will be the future.

  • By Jose Ramon Fernandez -

    You can??t put a screw cap to close a bottle of red wine or other wine that will need a posterior develop on bottle.
    The wine is alive. Whether you put a screw cap you will stop the breathing on it. It is more important for some wines to rest in bottles that in oak barrels, and always necessary after an aged in oak.

    Jose Ramon Fernandez

    Affairs of wine

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      That may or may not be true, Jose, as noted in the link in the post. My point for these wines is that they are grocery store wines made to drink immediately and don’t require aging, so whether the closure allows the wine to breathe after it’s bottled doesn’t matter.

  • By Jose Ramon Fernandez -

    Then, why don??t they use tetra-pack for the wine, much more cheaper, you can put more information on it, much lower carbon footprint, and bigger profits for the industry. For the wine is better than glass because is protected from light, and of course lighter than lighter glass bottle.
    My point is that for the wine, is very important which cap are used. Because they are important for the chemical reaction inside the bottle. Is the same way that the color of glass, shape and size of the bottle it is important too.
    Since years ago the big companies of wine spend a lot of money to convince that the screw cap is the best option for wine. The fact is that in most of the case the natural cork is more expensive that the wine that filled those bottles.

  • By ja smith -

    the answer is COST. screw cap bottles cost more than cork.

    If screw cap was the cheapest way to go, two-buck chuck would be in a screw cap.

    screw cap glass is not readily available during the year, except to the large producers who PRE-Order the prior year. The glass producers have a season and once screw cap is done, no more production until next year. greater costs ,limited availability,….simple answer , Corks.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      If Fred Franzia wanted to use screwcaps on Two-buck Chuck, the cost of screwcap glass would come down in 10 seconds.

      • By steve -

        I hadn’t considered that, but no doubt you are right, Jeff. But Fred’s no dummy. It makes me wonder if the prevailing thinking isn’t still so skewed away from screw caps. If so, it’s a shame.

        • By Wine Curmudgeon -

          Old white guys think wine should have corks, be the corks real or artificial. And for the most part, they still run the wine business. I can’t think of any other reason for corks to be on $10 wine.

  • By Jose Ramon Fernandez -

    Sorry for hearing that. Could I recommend you to check about the prices of one option and another and probably then you will change your point of view about that. Could be good speak with winemakers and factories of glass that will give you a bigger understanding about that.
    Best Regards
    Jose Ramon

  • By Whitney Rigsbee -


    While I definitely agree that glass weight is an important issue and producers should consider using lighter-weight alternatives, the environmental impact of screw cap closures is significantly higher than closures like Nomacorc (who I work for). In addition to the impact from bauxite mining, waste generated from faulted bottles due to reduction and other oxygen mismanagement issues from screw caps should be taken into account.

    Nomacorc closures are 100% recyclable, can eliminate faults, and ensure bottle-to-bottle consistency. That???s something that a wine-drinking consumer advocate like yourself should advocate!

    As an industry focused around agriculture, sustainability and environmental-awareness are critical. Nomacorc focuses on sustainable solutions and production processes, and we recently developed the world???s first zero carbon footprint wine closure (http://www.nomacorc.com/nomacorc-sustainability.php) made of plant-based materials derived from sugar cane.

    You???re exactly right that what???s in the bottle matters the most. And, Nomacorc works closely with our customers and partners to ensure that every consumer experiences the wine exactly as the winemaker intended it to be. Other closures cannot give this guarantee.

    It should also be noted that there are lighter-weight glass bottles available for inner seal closures in addition to screw caps. So, defaulting to screw cap bottles for environmental & cost benefits is not the only solution.

    Whitney Rigsbee, Nomacorc

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  • By IreneK -

    The fact that Stelvin uses aluminum along with a plastic liner can cause an argument about carbon footprint all day long. Although I won’t argue about the bottle weights.

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