Waxing on about closures
It’s no secret that I prefer screwcaps to cork, but the recent trend towards wax or plastic-dipped corks is a pointless affectation. It’s especially prevalent on ‘artisanal’, ‘natural’ and ‘new wave’ wines. It seems these winemakers prefer cork for two main reasons: they don’t own a screw-capping machine, and cork seems more natural and therefore in sync with their ‘as natural as possible’ shtick.
But dunking the cork in molten wax or plastic is a pain in the backside for the poor schmuck opening the bottle. You need to call on knives and other cutting implements as well as a corkscrew, and it can take quite a while and a lot of wrestling to get the thing open. And you end up with fragments of plastic strewn over your table and floor.
This affectation reached its zenith with a couple of bottles of amphora wine from the mercurial Glenn James: Pandora’s Amphora (a white, or should I say amber, wine – tasting) and Pyrrha Amphora (red – tasting). These have a screwcap, which is covered by a strip of fabric (which resembles the DOCG strip on a Chianti bottle) and then the whole thing is dipped in wax. It’s not only a puzzle to open, but the screwcap seems to defeat the purpose of the wax dipping.
Historically, dipping the neck in wax was intended to protect the cork from boring insects, and to guard against possible air ingress. A screwcap has no such vulnerability. The conclusion has to be that it’s all about appearance. The wines both cost $80 so they need to look the part. The liquid inside would also challenge drinkers expecting anything like a conventional wine.
Tip: wax, and some of the plastic dips (eg, William Downie’s), can be short-circuited by simply inserting a corkscrew through the coating into the cork and pulling the cork straight through the coating.