Over the course of my travels, I chat with restaurateurs and hear the latest hot industry topics. Recently, much of the talk has been about screw caps and how to deal with them. Part 1 addresses the presentation of screw-capped wines on the list. Part 2 will explore ways to present a screw-capped bottle of wine with as much integrity and ceremony as those closed with corks.
Slights and Murmurs
The restaurant industry’s use of alternative closures is nothing new. Bag-in-box wines, for example, have been successfully utilized in establishments for years, especially in casual concepts. But instead of publicly celebrating them, box wineshave been hidden behind the bar, clandestinely used for by-the-glass orders. This second-class treatment has everything to do with perception. Though a box wine’s closure affords bartenders expedience and ease and its air-free container enhances the wine’s shelf life, spigot service is not perceived by customers as nearly as impressive as pulling and presenting a cork.
The screw cap falls victim to similar prejudice, although not by everyone. Many wine-savvy consumers already understand its benefits. Ironically, customers whom we have successfully “traded up” from jug or box wines or who have not been privy to the screw-cap movement are seemingly the most perplexed or put off when presented with a screw cap.
Because more and more bottles have these closures---including ultrapremium selections---it’s important to educate consumers and acclimate them so that they are not unpleasantly surprised when a wine they order is uncapped before their eyes.
One good way to begin is to decide whether you want to address screw-cap wines on your wine list. Of course, your staff can simply answer guests’ concerns on a case-by-case basis. Or you can tag the bottles on your list with an asterisk and include on the menu a brief explanation of screw-cap benefits. Better yet, you could create a section on your list that highlights alternative-closure wines, including those with synthetic corks, and let people know why they’re all the rage.
Here are a few facts in support of screw caps that you can present either verbally when serving a screw-top bottle or in writing on your list. First, they have been around for a long time---mostly in the domain of food products and soft drinks---where they’ve been proven to guarantee freshness. Additionally, cork, being a natural material, is imperfect. Its failure rate--—i.e., wines affected by cork taint stemming from the closure itself or from the winery---is 2 to 11 percent, depending on whose research you rely on.
The failure rate is not so evident to most consumers. Even if they are drinking one affected bottle out of every ten, they may not know it because they usually can only pick up on the most blatant offenders. (You know the ones---those with the moldy cardboard smell.) In most cases, cork taint simply takes the edge off the wine. Maybe the fruit is not as bright or the wine is off or not as lively. This is especially unfortunate for restaurants because, rather than recognize that the wine is flawed, patrons are more likely to think the particular selection they chose from your list simply wasn’t very good. And surely you want your customers to have faith that you offer a quality selection in both food andwine.
But you can reassure your guests that, while most people may never be able to identify a mild case of cork taint, a twist-off top eliminates the possibility of buying and consuming a wine that should taste better than it does.
Finally, there are numerous studies that demonstrate that screw tops are conducive to red- and white-wine ageability and longevity, including a recently released four-year comparative study by The Hogue Cellars, which states: “Screw-cap closures proved to hold fruit and maintain freshness more effectively than natural and synthetic corks.”
In a nutshell, screw tops ensure consumers a better product and make it easier to open and reseal their favorite bottles. What’s not to like about that?