Updated: Aug 26, 2019
I am a brand-loyal consumer. However, I recently made a change. Having a small dinner party, I went to the store for wine and along with reviewing the prices as I hovered along the bottom shelves, I searched and purchased different varietals—a Cab, a Chardonnay and a Zinfandel—all with screw tops.
Me, the wife of a vintner. A vintner who was insanely particular about each aspect of the process. Who was qualified to do the corking? What brand of corks to buy? How long the corks had to soak in copious amounts of gag-inducing sulfite solution before being plunged into the bottle?
Because we made just over three-hundred cases annually, most parts of the wine-making process were done by us along with family and friends—harvesting, crushing, bottling, labeling, corking, and sealing. Jack was the winemaker; I was the go-fer.
A centerpiece in the winery was a standing sculptural granite-based wine opener—like those used by vintners and sommeliers the world over. The removal of the cork was artistry—a front to back motion of the long gleaming ornamental metal handle by a male figure with beefy biceps.
After an extended period of never ending skirmishes involving a multitude of instruments designed to remove the stubborn cork from the wine bottle—air pressure openers, winged butterfly corkscrews, electric wine openers, air pump or lever versions and the virtually impossible two-pronged Ah So remover—and with no man in the house, the ordeal of removing those stubborn bits of tree bark jammed into the slender neck of wine bottles has made me crazy long enough.
However, I’m not done with wine.
The enjoyment of wine, although my palette is still relatively unsophisticated, goes back to my mid-twenties and an authentic clay pot bottle, recognizable for its terra cotta color; its cork sealed in the same hue. Lancers from Portugal took its name from a painting by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, one of Spain’s greatest artists. His masterpiece, Las Lanzas (The Surrender of Breda) resides in the Prado Museum in Madrid. Velázquez’ depiction of the victorious Spaniards numerous spears or lances vertically rising over the horizon inspired the wine’s memorable trademark.
Lancers first gained popularity amongst American troops returning home from World War II. They were eager to celebrate and quickly embraced the wine’s crisp, refreshing style as I would many years later. It would be another decade or so after that before I embraced the art of Velázquez.
Less than sophisticated at the time, I also drank Mateus, another rosé from Portugal. Its bottle shape was inspired by flasks used by soldiers in WWI. The fact that Jimi Hendrix was photographed drinking it out of the bottle and Elton John wrote I get juiced on Mateus and just hang loose in “Social Disease” intrigued me more than its slight effervescence. I did love to grace its squat, disproportional bottles with colorful dripping candles. Today Pinterest is overloaded with empty Mateus bottles filled with LED battery operated twinkle lights attached to the cork.
Over the years, as our palettes evolved Jack and I stayed with corking and uncorking wine bottles. It’s only recently that, on my own, I have begun snapping up screw-topped varietals which were initially associated with value-oriented jugs of wine. That image began to change about a decade ago, when commercial winemakers in New Zealand and Australia started using the oh-so-easy-to-open screw top much more widely for all kinds of wine, including some higher-end bottles.
In my unofficial research, it is apparent that screw caps are no longer considered the closure just for cheap vino. Increasingly, bottles of premium wines are unscrewed, rather than uncorked. Many appear on the upper shelves.
So, for me, no more frustrating struggle, my leg shoved against the cabinet and my arms and elbows spread akimbo for leverage, with a wine bottle’s stubborn plug. No more sinking the corkscrew all the way into the cork, shredding it into a dozen or more parched chunks. No more jamming a cork all the way into the bottle only to have a shower of wine splash in my face. And no more broken cork bits floating in the decanter or a guest’s glass.
I realize the screw cap upends the ritual of uncorking. I’ll miss the elegant ceremony of removing a cork from a fine bottle of Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, the officious smelling of that same cork and the sound of a soft pop as it releases from the bottle.
I will not miss the lonely struggle with the defiant two-inch cylinder made of tree bark.
Screw the cork.
Brought memories of dinner parties early in our marriage life when we thought serving Mateus was so sophisticated!
Do agree with your acceptance of screw tops - none of us enjoy the struggle of corks - and those we do have we take to restaurants for dinner and allow them to deal with it.
I'm with you on this Marilyn. As the ONLY wine drinker in my home I love the convenience of screwing the lid back on a bottle and safely keeping the remaining wine for another day. Otherwise I just might be tempted to finish the whole bottle. Hate to see good wine go to waste! But this may result in getting wasted! or increasing my waist! So screw the cork and save the waist/waste.
Just finished reading your superb article on “Corking” and throughly enjoyed it! I expierence the same frustrations and knew when New Zealand & the Aussies converted to Screw Tops , the battle was over.
Good one, just have a few more magical corks before I’ll toss my mechanical wonder uuuurreeeplop Mpr
What will we creative people do without corks?
No more corks to make coffee table tops, placemats, Christmas wreaths, candle holders, pin cushions and the old homemade raft to escape the shipwrecked island.
Seems to me Screw tops are a close relative to plastic straws. They’re simply not natural.
Screwing is wonderful. Only you can make it seem so romantic. Anonymous
I loved your piece and thought of you as I uncorked a nice Cab last night. After all the openers, we’ve had, I ‘ve defaulted to the kind I used as a head waiter at the Gatekeeper restaurant so many years ago.
But I don’t shy away from screw tops, as some great winemakers have started using them.. I was told by a vintner once that 10% of all corks fail. ( Hard to believe, though – a statistic I might check if I were to use it. David
I loved Uncorked!
Our son in law is in the wine business....works with Pence Vineyards in Buellton, CA.
I sent your entry to him knowing he would love t o read it.
Thanks for taking me away once again.
Another fabulous pondering! You are an amazing talent, Marilyn❤️❤️
Must be all the fabulous knowledge you gleaned growing
up in Greenway Parks👍👍👍
I also remember serving Mateus back “in the day”!
And, Blue Nun! The bottles were pieces of art in themselves!
Please keep writing! You have such talent and insight👍👍
Love from Texas❤️❤️
Let's stick with champagne and that lovely, soft "pop" that tells you a celebration is in order
Latest blog was wonderful! Reminded me that we had Lancers wine at our rehearsal dinner 58 years ago this Sunday! Hope all is well with you, miss seeing you! Stay well!❤️J-9
Thanks Gail...I believe I have read that article in a Wine magazine...author makes some great points and obviously Jeff and I agree!Thanks for sending!XO Denise
Hi Marilyn! I just read your blog about wine, corks & screws! Really a good one! It brought back memories of entertaining early in our marriage. I’m happy to be on your list of recipients! I would like to share it with some friends, if possible. I appreciated your connection to the Velázquez painting! Wow!