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Australia 100% behind screwcap – almost

The screw cap has triumphed down under, with over 90% of wines for domestic consumption in Australia now sealed under stelvin, writes Helen Coburn.

While I was down under recently, Australia’s Wine Society presented its Young Winemaker of the Year award to Anna Pooley of Heemskerk in Tasmania. That’s a measure of how far Tasmania has come in the past decade, moving from a position in which too many of its wines were tart and simple, to being a producer whose wines can confidently compete with anything northern France or New Zealand has to offer.

Much talk at the society event centred upon the triumph of the screwcap in Australia, and it was revealed that over 90% of wines for domestic consumption are now sealed under stelvin, with a high proportion of cork closed wines destined solely for the export market. I was interested to learn that Penfolds now bottle virtually all their whites under screwcap, but not all of their reds. In particular, it seems they have no plans to replace the corks on its famous Grange, in part because no one really knows what will be the effect of screwcap on ageing over the very long term.

It also happened that while I was there, I bought a bottle of Voyager Cabernet Merlot 2005 for a not inconsiderable sum. That’s because for quite some time Voyager has been among my favourite Western Australian estates. But I was disappointed in this bottle- it was hard and tannic and, although the wine was sufficiently concentrated, the fruit, despite well-defined blackcurrant flavours, was ungenerous. In other words, in almost six years it had scarcely evolved at all and added no mellowing or secondary elements to the palate. I suspect that had it been under cork it would have been a much more interesting bottle and am increasingly persuaded that complex wines need the slight oxidation, and perhaps some elements in the cork as well, to attain their full ageing potential. Certainly wines may last longer under screwcap but it sometimes seems that this longevity consists in remaining youthful and stable for a very long time and then slowly drying out – without doing an awful lot in between. Time will tell, but could it be that some of the lovers of Grange feel the same?

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