THE CORK industry has come up with a new-style stopper to halt the wine industry’s search for alternatives. Called the Helix, it ‘twists to open’ and uses a special glass bottle with an internal threaded neck with a corresponding cork – so no corkscrew needed.
Portugal’s Amorim, the world’s largest cork stopper maker, will have new-stopper bottles on the shelves in France next year.
Communications head Carlos de Jesus said: “It retains the technical capabilities and the environmental advantages of cork with added convenience. It is for bottles in the 5-10 range, to be drunk within three or so years of production.”
He added: “We are not really worried about losing our share of the market – 71% of bottles still have cork stoppers.”
However, the alternative industry claims a 40% share and US wine critic Robert Parker feels wines with corks will be in the minority by 2015.
Alternatives were aimed to stop ‘corked’ wine but some say they do not allow enough oxygen into the bottle. Richard Teply, European manager for No1 plastic firm Nomacorc, says their products have moved on in the 12 years since first used. “Our product is highly engineered and is far from being just a lump of plastic plugging up a bottle.
“We have four PhD scientists working on development and can control the amount of oxygen getting into the wine. We have different models for different wines. At present, we are studying a sugar cane cork, to avoid oil-based plastics.”
The company is too young to gauge its success with old wines, so it is not targeting more such wines, which “only make 3-5% of the market and, because they can afford top quality cork, have fewer problems anyway with corkage.”
Despite this, it makes 25% of closures for France’s still wine.
Some older wine chateaux are interested, such as Château Margaux in Bordeaux, but spokeswoman Johana Loubet says it will take several years.
“The aim is to see whether we can get a lower number of badly affected wines while maintaining the quality of a natural corked wine. But the wine has to be tasted regularly over a long period of time and as yet we haven’t come to any conclusions.”
British wine expert Oz Clarke says: “Don’t be a cork snob. The only requirements are that the seal on a bottle of wine be hygienic, airtight, long-lasting and removable.” He points to a big increase in the use of screw caps and says they are now appearing on some very classy Australian, New Zealand and South American wines.
Patricia Atkinson, from Clos d’Yvigne in Bergerac, says she was tempted by screwtops for her white wines, but advisors had told her the UK market was not ready for top-quality French wine without a cork.
But, she says, people now see renowned wines with screw caps – and, if she was not retiring, this would be the time to change: “After all, can you think of any other product that risks ruining, I would say, up to 10% of output because of the container it is kept in?”
Amorim’s Carlos de Jesus says screw caps have 20% of the market and are no longer gaining, while plastics are losing ground and are on 10%.
Nonetheless, cork-makers feel compelled to find new ideas. The standard cork seems certain to remain in most prestigious European wines for some time to come, but in the lower price range, consumers will be able to choose for themselves.
By Jane Hanks.
Photo: Amorim & O-I