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‘Brave’ Portuguese wine company opts for screwcap

In what is being described a 'brave move', Portuguese giant Sogrape is putting one of its major wines under screwcap.

The Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2010, described as ‘lively and fresh… with refreshing acidity and a pleasant, light spritz’ is sold at around £6.99 in Waitrose, Majestic and the Wine Society.

‘This is not the first Portuguese wine to go under screwcap, but they are quite rare,’ James Forbes, marketing director of importer Stevens Garner told Decanter.com.

‘For the biggest wine company in Portugal to do this is quite rare. It’s a slightly maverick, and quite a brave, move. It might not be well-received by the rest of the industry.’

Forbes was referring to the fact Sogrape – which makes wine all over Portugal, as well as owning Finca Flichmann in Argentina – might feel pressured to support its home country’s cork industry.

Portugal produces half of the world’s natural cork and supplies over 80% of cork closures for wine.

Over the last decade natural cork has seen its market share decline. It accounted for 69% of the 18bn wine closures sold in 2009, with screwcaps taking 11% and plastic corks 20%. Ten years ago, over 95% of bottles used natural cork.

In regions which have embraced screwcap wholeheartedly, such as New Zealand, more than 90% of wines are sealed with it.

Sogrape’s entry-level brand Terra Franca is under screwcap, but it is highly unusual for Portuguese wines to be sealed with anything other than natural cork. In parts of Portugal – for example the Douro – it is illegal to use synthetic closures.

Sogrape export director Júlio Martins told Decanter.com they were responding the ‘market requests’ and had taken no ‘pro-active position regarding closures’.

‘Considering Quinta de Azevedo’s light and fresh style of wine the screwcap is very convenient for consumers to open and reseal the bottle, with the added benefit of allowing one to enjoy it by the glass.’

Apcor, the Portuguese cork association, said one winery switching one brand to screw cap did ‘not represent the overall picture’. It said that the cork industry had had an 8.5% yearly increase in exports, followed by a double digit increase in the first two months of 2011, and moreover Amorim, the market leader, had just posted its best results in 140 years.

‘Natural cork’s continued success is firmly based on three key advantages: technical performance, added value and sustainability. In export markets – whether it be the US, the UK or China – these factors are becoming ever more important.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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