Screwcaps aren’t a joke any more. Screwcaps and artificial corks accounted for one-quarter of the wine market in 2009 — compared to just 10 percent at the turn of the century. Meanwhile, the number of screwcaps increases by an estimated 500 million worldwide every year, and more and more expensive, high-quality wines are closed with screwcaps instead of traditional corks.

About the only area of wine where screwcaps haven’t made inroads is with the most expensive wines (and you can find $100 wines with screwcaps). Otherwise, they’re all over the place.

And why has this happened? Natural cork suffered through horrific quality-control problems in the past decade, when as many as 1 of 10 bottles of wine may have been spoiled by a bad cork. (The technical term is TCA taint, a chemical process that makes the wine smell like a wet basement.) And though cork’s quality has improved over the past several years, screwcaps are here to stay. They may not take over the world as it was once thought they would, but they still offer quality, especially for wines that don’t have to age.

And they’re much easier to open. These screwcap wines offer a good overview of why the closure has become such a success. All of these are available at Central Market:
Clarksburg CNW ($12): This California white is a blend of viognier and chenin blanc — fresh, crisp and fruity, which makes it an ideal screwcap wine. Chill it, twist it open, and enjoy it with grilled chicken with a minimum of fuss.
Jim Jim Shiraz ($13): I’m not a big fan of Australian shiraz, which can be pretentious and difficult to drink — literally, thanks to too much fruit and too much alcohol. That’s not the case with the Jim Jim, which has plenty of shiraz character but without the phoniness.
Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($18, pictured on the left): New Zealand’s wines were among the first to adapt screwcaps, which suit the wines they make — bright and full of citrus and tropical fruits. Spy Valley may make the best sauvignon blanc in the world (and its riesling is even better).

Also online: Read the transcript from Jeff’s live chat about screwcap wines

With Your Wine

Steamed mussels recipe

Seafood, here in the middle of the prairie, is expensive. Plus, the quality, even when we pay a lot of money, can leave something to be desired. Mussels, on the other hand, are relatively inexpensive, simple to do, and consistent in quality. Serve this with a loaf of crusty bread and with one of the screwcap whites (and use the wine in the recipe). And yes, you can use your fingers to eat the mussels.

Serves four, takes 20 to 30 minutes

3-4 lbs fresh mussels
1 1/2 c white wine
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1/3 c chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Wash the mussels under cool running water, and remove the beard (the stringy part on the side of the shell), if any. Farm-raised mussels, which are sold in most supermarkets, will be fairly clean and mostly beardless. After washing, throw away any mussels that aren’t tightly closed. If it’s open, gently tap the shell, and it should close.
2. Combine everything in a heavy pot, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook for two minutes. If the mussels have opened, they’re ready. If not, cook for another 30 to 60 seconds.
3. Remove the mussels from the pot with a slotted spoon to a large bowl. Then, carefully pour the liquid in the pot into the bowl with the mussels, making sure not to pour the liquid at the bottom of the pot, which can be sandy, into the bowl.

Ask the Wine Guy

Can you cook with a spoiled wine?
It won’t harm you, but why would you want to? The off flavors of the wine will get into your food. The best rule for spoiled wines is to throw them out.

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