I didn't think it would be long before there was a serious challenge to the screwcap. Meet Zork. Invented in Adelaide, South Australia, by one Conor McKenna, the new wine closure, launched globally at last month's London International Wine & Spirits Fair, "seals like a screwcap and pops like cork". And yes, I did have a go and it does appear to do both, which should please the on-trade die-hards who have found it difficult to include screwcap wines on their lists.
The Zork closure consists of three parts: a robust outer cap that provides a tamper-evident clamp that locks on to the CETIE band of a cork-mouth bottle; an inner metal foil which provides an oxygen barrier equivalent to a screwcap (the oxygen transmission rate is 0.01cc a day, if you really want to know); and an inner plunger that creates the satisfying and much sought-after "pop" on extraction. And it reseals after use.
And this ceremony is the raison d'ˆtre for the invention, says McKenna, an ex-account manager for a bottle manufacturing company: "Even though it's a great closure, many people don't like the screwtop because they think it looks cheap and they want the experience of pulling out the cork. So we've designed an aesthetically pleasing device that has solved the problem of cork taint in a way that I think retains the most important feature of the cork: the sense of tradition and celebration involved with opening a bottle of wine."
Has anyone bought into it yet? There are five Australian wineries in full production with it, says Zork's Ben Shillito. One of them is d'Arenberg, the highly regarded McLaren Vale winery. "It's the greatest advancement to wine since the treading of the first grapes," gushes Chester Osborn, chief winemaker and viticulturist, who is on hand on the Zork stand to demonstrate.
It's my turn now. The black plastic peels away easily and I twist off the black plastic stopper. "Hmm, everybody screws," giggles Shillito. "You miss the full pop if you screw. We've got an education programme in progress to show people how to lift it off correctly."
Zork is also spending £250,000 on market research to see how it's going down with the wine consumer. And there are trials aplenty in the industry - South Australian grape and wine research facility Provisor is currently in the middle of a two-year trial bottling of Eden Valley Riesling, assessed at one-month intervals for six months and six-month intervals thereafter.
With screwcaps gaining in popularity with the public in both the USA and UK (12.5% of all the wines at the show this year are under screwcap, which compares to just 2.5% two years ago), maybe the future is Zork.
Shorts from the snow
Wine monitor Market research company Wine Intelligence has launched an in-depth report on wine sales in the on-trade. Called How the UK On-Trade Works, it predicts that major on-premise pub and bar chains are planning to upgrade their wine offers as part of a strategy to target higher-value consumers.
"Restaurants and hotels are equally determined to make their wine lists perform better, delivering more customers and more profit, which is welcome news for the wine industry, as it eagerly seeks expansion and margin opportunities in the increasingly competitive UK market," says business development director Brian Howard. But on-trade buyers interviewed for the report warned that wine producers and intermediaries risk missing out on this opportunity through poor service, lack of customer understanding and neglect of specific on-trade needs.
One of the major findings of the study is that wine is becoming an increasingly important "strategic" drink for the on-trade, as good wine offers are perceived to be crucial to attracting the kind of customer willing to spend more money and perhaps order high-margin food dishes. It also highlights the growing battle for "share of wallet" between bars, pubs, restaurants and hotels, with many pub chains now encroaching into the bar and restaurant market with increasingly high-quality food offers, while hotels are looking to improve often underperforming food and beverage operations, and restaurants are increasingly looking to the wine offering to deliver competitiveness and profitability.
The full 94-page report by Wine Intelligence, in association with LIWSF organiser Brintex, costs £375 and can be bought on-line at www.wineintelligence.com.
Pub wine win
The Drinks Business magazine has announced its On-Trade Business Person of the Year - Pamela Gregory, category and purchasing manager for Birmingham-based pub group Mitchells & Butlers (formerly Six Continents). Gregory was applauded for generating consumer and staff confidence and contributing to the company's growing profits.
The French Wines Match is upon us again. Now in its third year, the competition, organised by Sopexa, invites restaurants, wine bars and pubs to create a unique menu and match French wines to it. Two dishes must be created from a preselected basket of food ingredients chosen by chef Richard Corrigan of London's Lindsay House. The aim: "to highlight the diversity and versatility of French wines, while demonstrating their ability to complement a wide selection of cuisines and dishes."
The wines should be currently available to on-trade customers and should not cost more that £30. The prize - a week in a wine-producing region to the tune of £2,000 or the same value in kitchen kit. For an entry form contact Ginny Martin at Sopexa on 020 7312 3636. Closing date for all entries is 31 July.