Aluminum Wine Closures vs: Cork

wine cork on a person's hands

When packaging their product, winemakers look to preserve aroma, color and flavor at a reasonable cost while avoiding the chances of debilitating contamination or premature oxidation. Additionally, wine closures may be chosen depending on the wine’s qualities, expected consumption date or the market in general. The combination of these factors can make choosing the most suitable closure a complex and sometimes confusing task. Closure producers have a lot to offer, whether natural, plastic or technical corks, screw or crown caps. There also exist more unique closures that allow a product to stand out on crowded shelves. The closure industry has become very competitive, driving innovation regarding the best closure choices for any situation. However, it’s still all about managing oxygen ingress and transfer ratios. Because each wine has its own unique factors, it is ultimately up to the winemaker to decide which closure is the best choice for their wine.

Aluminum Closures Make a Push in the Marketplace: Herti US, Inc.

  Herti US, Inc. offers more than 40 different sizes of aluminum closures for wine, spirits, olive oil and mineral waters. Their products have diameters ranging from 17 to 43 mm and heights of 12 to 60 mm, used for sealing bottles with capacities of 50 ml up to a U.S. gallon (4.54 l). With various sizes, shapes, and printing capabilities, manufacturers can help winemakers create an overall attractive package with consistent branding and product recognition. In addition, customers can choose from different design options, including up to five color offset printing with matte, semi-matte and glossy finishes. They also offer hot foil printing, embossing and top relief with a wide range of decorative capabilities and liner choices. Herti continually invests in innovative products to satisfy the evolving requirements of wine producers. Vinstar is the trademark under which Herti sells its aluminum closures designed for wine bottle packaging. The most popular standard closures offered for the wine industry are the 22×15, 22×30, 25×17, 25×43, 28×44 and 30×60 sizes.

  Zahari Zahariev, CEO of Herti, told The Grapevine Magazine that aluminum closures now represent a reasonably priced, modern way of closing bottles, which plays a significant role in preserving a wine’s quality, branding and impact, and also the winemaker’s environmental footprint.

  “Aluminum screw cap closures are simply cost-effective compared to other closure choices and suitable for both glass and PET bottles,” said Zahariev. “Aluminum closures offer endless creative possibilities for bottle design, and screw closures are now widely accepted and embraced as a suitable closure for all types of wines. With that acceptance comes an excellent base for the customization that becomes an important aspect of the winemaker’s brand building. An aluminum closure can be a piece of art by itself, but many design options are available to make it stand out as your own.”

  Zahariev said COVID-19 affected the industry because some sectors had to stop working and shut down while the retail, wine-to-go and online markets saw a boom. The standard closure business mainly stayed steady while the demand for luxury closures diminished. The screw closure business for the small bottles used in the aircraft and hotel industry vanished.

  “We look for the trend to get back to normal as restrictions fall or get lifted,” said Zahariev. “The COVID-19 pandemic led to a renewed industry focus on environmental commitment, meaning sustainability along with increased sensitivity about industry effects on our environment. This type of renewed commitment always drives innovation, and it did the same to the closure industry. Increased use and demand for aluminum screw cap closures are just one example of how the desired convenience factor also happened to be environmentally friendly. Aluminum screw caps are fully recyclable, with any production waste reused within the process. In addition to the screw caps, the glass bottle that the cap gets installed on is recyclable, so that’s a real eco-friendly situation.”

  Zahariev said that winemakers should look to, invest in and partner with companies that focus on the winemaker’s needs. Herti continuously invests in the latest production technologies and organizational improvements to guarantee its clients the best service and the highest quality products in an optimal timeframe. While providing the most popular, standard sizes of wine closures, they also offer the more petite sizes routinely used for ready-to-drink, single-serve, and mini bottles supplied by airlines and hotels. They come in 16 standard stock colors with numerous possibilities for decoration and design, making it easy for a winemaker to make the right closure choice for their wines.

  “At this point, winemakers generally know the pros and cons of different closures,” said Zahariev. “What’s important is to be able to get what fits your needs at a reasonable price. Aluminum screw closures offer that over other options and are fully recyclable, and offer numerous sizes and liners with a wide range of possibilities for decorations to enhance and promote unique and consistent branding across the board. In addition, aluminum screw closures offer the consumer the ability to open a bottle without any special devices easily and then have the option to reseal the bottle for later consumption without worrying about spillage. Storage and transportation are easier and don’t require the bottle to remain upright. We build mutual partnerships and maintain continuous contact with every client, and always keep our promises. We believe that your brand tomorrow is our business today.”

Cork is Abundant, Sustainable & Yes, Still Very Useful:

Dr. Dinah Bird, Baker-Bird Winery & Distillery

  Cork and composition cork are the traditional choices for wine closures, and contrary to what some have said, they are not on their way out. Even with the push towards aluminum, the percentage of corked wines has remained consistent over the past several years. But with more closure choices comes the opportunity to fine-tune your needs and choose the closure that best fits your wine, your reputation and your brand. And when you happen to own Baker-Bird Winery & Distillery, you stick with what has allowed you to remain in business since the late 1700s, including using corks in your spirits and wines.

  “Baker-Bird Winery is the oldest, largest wine cellar in America and naturally possesses a great deal of history surrounding our winery,” said owner Dr. Dinah Bird. “Being as historically significant as we are, we want and need our guests to experience the historical and traditional setting of our winery, our town and, of course, our selection of wines too.

  “We know that some wines can be better with the use of the aluminum screw closures, but some can also be better with corks because of the aging and oxidation process they provide and allow, like a Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Franc is just one wine that benefits from aging and oxidation. It’s part of the wine’s overall process, and you won’t get that process with an aluminum screw cap. As a winemaker, you have to be aware of your product and how it ages and reacts. For example, our estate wines bring a little higher alcohol content, so they naturally oxidize a little faster than those with lesser alcohol content.”

  Bird told The Grapevine Magazine that if her winery ever decided to use different or synthetic closures, it would likely be on their bourbon-aged wines simply because of their higher alcohol content. Higher alcohol content makes the wine’s aroma and taste more time-sensitive due to higher oxidization rates.

  “We believe and maintain that the act of drinking wine should appeal to all of our senses to create a fulfilling and memorable experience,” said Bird. “What’s better than hearing that familiar pop of a cork pulled from a bottle of wine or champagne, releasing the wonderful aromas to all who are around? And it’s always been customary for some to inspect that cork after opening. Much nicer and somehow more elegant and satisfying than unscrewing a cap and simply placing it on the table beside you.”

  “Closure choice is just one part of the overall packaging of wine,” said Bird. “And the wine’s packaging is like the clothing that a person chooses to wear. Some clothes are naturally more casual and others considerably more formal. To me, aluminum screw caps resemble casual wear, and corks are formal wear. A winemaker should choose the package, or clothes, based on the product, the environment, and the circumstances of consumption.”

  Bird said there has been a move towards a broader population of consumers drinking wine, much of that taking place in more casual settings due to the pandemic. As a result, more wine is consumed in informal situations, leading to a broader acceptance of screwcap closures for wines and a wider acceptance of canned wines.

  “The aluminum screw closures have worked well in that they are great for ready-to-drink wines that can be easily resealed and do not need or benefit from aging,” said Bird. “But cork trees are not endangered, and the supply is equally sustainable. As for recycling, natural corks are indeed only a one-use item when it comes to closing wines, but you can be creative and recycle them in other ways. Baker-Bird Winery is proud to provide a total customer experience for our visitors. In doing so, we allow the customers to have a hands-on experience in corking bottles by hand, using our recycled corks and bottles. By recycling our corks and bottles in a creative and fun way, our visitors get a hands-on experience that they don’t get anywhere else. It is a rewarding experience for all involved.”

Reigning Riesling: Germany’s Sweetest Crown

2 wine glasses

By: Hanifa Sekandi

The exact origin of Riesling in Germany, no one really knows. What is known is that the premier vine, frost-resistant with small berries, could have been birthed by wild grapes in the Rhine Valley. A handwritten invoice for the purchase of six Riesling vines to be planted east of Rheingau from Klaus Kleinfisch to his lord, Count Johann IV of Katzen-elbogen, on March 13, 1435, is the earliest documentation of the existence of this world-renowned wine.

  The broad spectrum and diversity of German Rieslings are attributed to the region, the terroir and the ripeness of the grape – whether it be a cool, refreshing, fruity, crisp citrus flavor or a spicy, warm, robust herbal aroma that entices the senses and dances on the palate. The experience of one Riesling to the next due to its complexity leaves wine lov-ers eternally intrigued. Many consider this wine the ultimate dining companion since its diverse wine repertoire, sweet to bone dry, pairs well with an assortment of dishes.

  “Spåtlese” (late harvest) is a process stumbled upon in 1775 in the Schloss Johanisberg vineyard, owned by Prince-Abbot of Fulda in the Rheingau, where noble rot had taken over the grapes. Destiny would have it that the estate winemaker’s decision to press the grapes led to the discovery that good is sometimes revealed in the most precarious times. The quality of the wine was beyond expectations and thus led to harvesting Riesling grapes or bunches during different stages of ripeness. The significance of this is that a wide range of wines are produced, setting German Riesling apart from the rest.

  The high quality of the Schloss Johanisberg Riesling led to further cultivation mandates in the 18th century, when approximately 294,000 Riesling grapevines were planted. Since this vineyard is the home where viticulture would transcend the mundane and grotesque into the sublime, the term “Johanisberg Riesling” is another name used to mark the quali-ty of wine and pay homage to where it all began. Not only did this include Mosel and Rhine regions, but vines were also planted in 1720 on the serene vineyards of the former Benedictine monastery in Johanisberg/Rheingau.

  The popularity of this royal varietal was quite apparent in 1787 when Clemens Wenzeslaus, Prince Bishop of Trier/Mosel, decreed an order within his territory that all inferior to Riesling must be replaced. A sentiment previously echoed when Prince-Bishop of Speyer/Pflaz demanded more of this enigmatic grape in his Deidesheim vineyards. Ra-re vintages from 1848 are housed in the cellars underneath the estate, now owned by the Metternich family.

Unripe Times For German Riesling

 & New Beginnings

  As with most jubilant times, there is a low point where what was once celebrated no longer fits the times. It was indeed the fate of Germany’s beloved Riesling due to World War I and II and the Great Depression. Long gone were the days where this noble wine touched the lips of royals and elites. As the markets for exporting the wine languished, so did viticulture. Once an award-winning “Grand Prix” gold star wine in 1904 at the St. Louis Worlds Fair, German Riesling’s sparkle dimmed into the background. New innova-tive methods for wine cultivation led to cheaper wines but resulted in less flavorful, lower quality wines.

  With these new inexpensive wines on the market, German winemakers had to move be-yond just popularity and remind people why traditional grape varieties and quality cannot be replaced. The surge of a younger generation of growers, Generation Riesling, brought new life and new meaning to this beloved internationally acclaimed wine by appealing to the market change with innovation while still keeping their process firmly rooted in tradi-tional handcrafted cultivation and harvesting.

  Appealing to both the budget-conscious wine lover and those who seek premium wines led winemakers to produce smaller quantities of higher quality wines. Striking the right balance between consumer demand and market change allowed German winemakers to retain their previous glory without the pomp and circumstance and elitism. Each bottle of Riesling represents the hardworking winemakers and family-owned vineyards determined to keep this nuanced grape varietal on the table for generations to come.

Why Climate Matters

  The climate in Germany is quite favorable to producing what has been designated authen-tic Riesling. The vast, steep slate slopes carved out by rivers help to ripen grapes. As a result, Riesling is cultivated in 13 German wine-growing regions. But, the climate is not something most people think about as they fill their basket with a few bottles of great wine. German vineyards house and grow 50% of the world’s most diverse Rieslings. From the valleys of the Mosel River to the Rhine with mild winters and summers, to eastern regions Franken, Sachse and Saale-Unstrut with hot summer temperatures or cold continental winters, the extraordinary ability for this wine to survive in unpredictable climates at times tepid or blistering is unmatched.

  Riesling is cultivated in other countries such as South America, Austria, New Zealand, Africa, Australia, and even Canada and the U.S., but with 24,000 hectares grown in Ger-many, it’s not surprising that they have become synonymous with this mixed lineage wine. Today, what sets them apart is that even with climate change, the higher latitudes of where the vines are located still allow for curated grape selection based on ripeness. Just as before, warmer temperatures or unpredictable weather patterns require quick ad-aptation to yield quality wines. This made more headway for dry Rieslings since the most robust healthy grapes are harvested first due to new methods to accommodate the evolv-ing temperatures. Warmer temperatures give way to a full landscape of wines that can be harvested accordingly.

Discover Germany’s Riesling

  There is a Riesling made for everyone. Even a Pinot Noir connoisseur cannot deny there is that one that deserves to be the star when they host friends and family. If you are un-familiar with German Riesling, knowing where to start can become overwhelming due to the large selection available. As with other wines, you embark on a journey of trial and error to discover a palate-pleasing experience. The great Riesling can be a hit or miss de-pending on where you start.

  It is safe to say the best place to start is with styles that put German winemakers on the map. You may be familiar with the medium-bodied sweeter wines with lower alcohol levels; for example, higher quality wines such as Eiswein, sweet dessert wines or botry-tized Rieslings, where berries are harvested in temperatures below -8 degrees Celsius and pressed frozen. Other Rieslings that sit on the spectrum of higher sugar levels with sweet fruity aromas are picked seven days after the main harvest. These include the world-famous premium vintages made with shriveled berries that age for decades, some dating back over 100 years. Honey-like aromas indicate individually handpicked overripe ber-ries.

  Lighter-bodied dry wines with citrusy lime and apple aromas originating from cooler climates are picked earlier and selected from the main harvest. When produced in warmer climates that harvest and produce dry wines, robust orange aromas are often present. These wines are fruity yet crisp, lower in alcohol and have a mineral undertone and high acidity.

  Each region is known for producing different wines. For example, from the valleys of the Mosel and the Rhine, you will find wines that have a higher fruity acidity. Conditions in these regions are favorable for late harvests. Understanding the region where your wine is harvested will give you a glimpse into what aromas may be present in your selection. Words like Spaltese, Auslese (very ripe grape) or Beerenauslese (overripe berries) found on the label of most German wines reveal a story of a sweeter experience.

Notable German Rieslings

Niedermenniger Herrenberg – 2018er Riesling Spatlese feinherb:  From the Hofgut Falkenstein winery produced in the Mosel region is a tart, off-dry, light, semi-sweet medium finish wine. Best served cool, not over-chilled. Grapefruit, peach, lime, pear and green apple aromas with slight honey, floral and mineral notes best de-scribe this Riesling. Best served with meats, seafood, spicy dishes and poultry.

2017 Christmann Riesling Trocken:  Produced in Pflaz, the second largest of Germany’s 13  Riesling-producing regions. This dry, bright, citrusy, biodynamic-certified wine with an herbal finish comprises of grapes from a selective harvest.

2018 Driessigacker Organic Grauburgunder:  This certified-organic, dry, medium-bodied Riesling is produced in the Rheinhessen re-gion. Light with ripe citrus, grapefruit, and apricot aromas, it is made by acclaimed winemaker Jochen Dreissigacker. Best served with seafood.

  You may not be able to experience the great landscapes and rolling valleys of Germany or visit these historic vineyards at the moment, but for now, you can imbibe in the rich history of the great Johanhisberg Riesling. Know that while you create memories over a glass of wine, with each sip you too have traveled to great places where beautiful things flourish in the harshest of conditions.