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Wine capsules are beginning to pass into history

Aug 20, 2023

What’s with the foil or plastic capsule at the top of a wine bottle covering the cork? More pointedly, what is the point of it in the 21st century?

The capsule once had a purpose: to protect the cork from mold or nibbling critters in dark, dank wine cellars. Not really a problem today.

Wine traditions die hard, and the capsule morphed into a marketing vehicle or was justified because wine bottles always had capsules. Today’s cellars are cleaner, rodent-free, and we drink most of our wine soon after purchase anyway.

Capsules no longer serve a purpose beyond aesthetics and branding. Once used, we put capsules in landfills or we leave them on bottles as potential contaminates at the recycling center. They are a cost to the winemaker and, thus, to the consumer. The fanciest capsules can add up to $4 to a bottle. Smaller wineries must rent special equipment to place the capsules on the bottle and pay an extra worker to handle the machine.

Capsules are an unnecessary hassle to sommeliers and regular consumers. The dull “knife” on a corkscrew has a hard time with most capsules, which means every so often the knife does a better job cutting your thumb than it does slicing around the capsule.

Happily, thanks to responsible winemakers, the capsule’s time is passing. When you encounter a bottle without a capsule, don’t imagine it to be an inferior wine. Instead, rejoice. You have encountered a forward-thinking maker who is putting money into the wine and not supererogatory packaging.

Tasting notes:

• 19 Crimes Martha’s Chard 2020: Summer fun wine and a bit more. $10-12

• Ron Rubin Pam’s Unoaked Chardonnay 2020: Tasty fruit with hint of sweetness. $10-15

• Gancia Prosecco Rosé DOC is a delight to the eye, both in the dramatic bottle and in the glass. Light delight. $13

• Pommery Louis Pommery California Brut: Sips like Old World Champagne, but with a fruity California twist. $19-22

• Stags’ Leap Viognier, Napa Valley 2018: Smooth, lovely, accurate presentation of pure viognier. $26-30

• Pedernales Cellars Petite Sirah, Farmhouse Vineyards, Texas High Plains 2018: Rich, smooth, tasty, 100% petite sirah from exceptional Texas winery. $60

Last round: Dear Math Quiz: Isn’t time you grew up and solved your own problems? Wine time.

Email: [email protected]. Newsletter: Website: Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine. Twitter: @gusclemens.