A sparkling wine in a bottle with a screw cap? It may sound unlikely, but an Australian producer, De Bortoli, has released what is thought to be the world’s first screw-capped, fully sparkling wine.
Screw caps have previously been used for semi-sparkling wines (known as frizzante in Italy), produced by Prosecco’s Casa Gheller and others, but the aluminum closure adopted by De Bortoli is able to take greater amounts of pressure. It will be used for the company's fully sparkling entry level wines, sold under the Willowglen and Trevi labels.
Guala Closures and glass manufacturer O-I, the firms behind the new cap (called Viiva), claim it eliminates the difficulty of opening traditionally sealed sparkling wine and allows bottles to be resealed, retaining their sparkle “for weeks or even months.” No longer will it be necessary to finish a bottle quickly for fear that the contents will go flat.
Toni Carlino, marketing manager for De Bortoli, says its customers are fed up with cork closures. “We get constant feedback that they’re hard to get off. Like, ‘It broke my mother’s prized Ming vase when it shot out the end of the bottle.’ They also lose carbonation [over time].”
Guala Closures Australia believe the screw caps will appeal to women who have difficulty extricating corks from sparkling wine bottles.
“If you’re a sparkling drinker and you’re a girl, you would normally ask the bloke next to you to open it. It happens all the time in my circles," reports sales and marketing manager Simon Yudelevich.
"It’s a pain in the butt to open," he adds. "We’ve had lots of feedback from females having trouble opening bottles of sparkling who don’t enjoy the process.”
The easy-opening closure is also expected to appeal to event organizers, for whom speed of service is crucial. The fact that it allows sparkling wine to be resealed and retain its sparkle will be an additional bonus.
However, it's likely that some sparkling-wine drinkers will miss the pop that comes with uncorking a bottle of bubbly. Carlino concedes that the new closure doesn't pop, but says, "It does make what they call the sigh of a contented woman,” – which is the sound that should come from an expertly opened bottle of fizz.
De Bortoli has launched four products under the Willowglen and Trevi labels, choosing to try out the screw caps on "everyday" wines to begin with. If they're successful, the closures will be extended to the company's premium brands.
“We sell over a million bottles of Trevi a year, so we went with one of our most important brands from a volume perspective," explains Carlino. "If we did it on our $22 Yarra Valley premium sparkling, it doesn’t have the same distribution. And we do need to build momentum.”
In technical terms, the aluminum used for the new Viiva closure is said to be stronger and more robust than the average screw caps used for still wines. More importantly, the liner of the new cap is made of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH), which is widely used in food packaging because of its low permeability to oxygen. Usually, the liner in screw caps is made from tin or Saranex.
“Neither tin saran nor Saranex was able to hold pressure and therefore [they] could not perform the function the product was intended for. This liner performs very well,” says Yudelevich.
But even though the new closure can be used for fully sparkling wines, it cannot yet be applied to méthode traditionnelle wines such as Champagne. This is because Champagne contains six atmospheres of pressure, while the Viiva cap can cope with a maximum of five.
“We're not there in terms of traditional method," says Yudelevich. "That's our next logical step. I guess we need to see how it goes with the market first.”
The bottle used for screw-cap sparkling wines is taller than those which are sealed with a mushroom-shaped cork stopper and wire cage. The reason is that without the extra height added by the cork and wire, the screw-capped bottles would appear shorter on retailers' shelves. Size does matter, says Carlino, so a taller bottle was specially designed.
Initially, there was some confusion surrounding European Union regulations and whether they would permit the sale of sparkling wines sealed with the screw cap. However, both the European Commission and Wine Australia told Wine-Searcher there was no problem.
According to Steve Guy, general manager of compliance and trade at Wine Australia, “it used to be the case” that sparkling wines sealed with screw caps were not permitted to be sold in Europe, but that is no longer true.
In his view, any confusion is the result of the rules being misinterpreted. “The law says [that] only sparkling wine may be sealed with a mushroom-shaped stopper," Guy explains. "Unfortunately, some read this as 'sparkling wine may only be sealed with a mushroom-shaped stopper.'"
A Commission spokesman on agriculture confirmed there was nothing to stop imported sparkling wines from being marketed with screw tops.
A sigh of relief is called for all round, then. And not just from contented women.