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Snooth User: CuriousWine

A Post About Capsules Probably Shouldn't Be This Long

Posted by CuriousWine, Jan 29, 2008.

Let's start at the top. Really, let's start at the top of the bottle. This is where it all begins. After we lay eyes on the wine label, but before we extract the cork, we encounter the capsule. Our experience in dealing with the capsule can color the impression of the wine. Cheap PVC (poly-vinyl chloride) plastic capsules give off an aura of, well, cheapness. These are the difficult to remove capsules that are often found on mass-market wines; they are heat shrunk to fit snugly on the top of the bottle. There are also aluminum capsules that give a wine an air of sophistication for about 10 cents more than PVC capsules.

There are Polyam capsules (pictured above), which are hybrids, and there are tin capsules, which are weighty, classy and expensive (at 13 to 18 cents a pop). Then there are no capsules (free and naked looking, like a bag of cereal without a box) and there are wax capsules (the bane of sommeliers who struggle to chip away at the stuff without making a mess).

There are so many choices and every one is compromise between quality, price, accessibility, and aesthetics. For a interesting (as interesting as an article on wine capsules can get), contemporary history of capsules click here and for a current overview of bottle toppers click here .

What do I like? I love tin. It is easy to cut through with the blade of a waiters' corkscrew; it tends to be thicker and heavier (which certainly has its own connotations ). Of course, it costs more, but it also looks and feels right. I enjoy the look of wax, but not the work required to remove it. Aluminum is a fair deal, easy to remove and visually similar to tin without the pomp and price. I can live without PVC and Polyam capsules, but I don't imagine them disappearing anytime soon. Let me state that I don't believe that any wine buying decision should be governed solely by wine capsule type. Of course, if you lack a corkscrew (or a vacuum to clean chunks of wax off the floor) you might opt for another type of capsule entirely, a screwcap.

Scott Rosenbaum is director of operations for the International Wine Center and wine buyer for the retailer DrinkUpNY .


Reply by Philip James, Jan 29, 2008.

If interesting, because when you look at it in isolation who wouldnt pay 5 cents extra for a decent capsule? Part of the issue is winemakers face these decisions all the way up and down the line. How deep a punt can they afford? How many colors for the front and back label? Any metallic fillagre? What about hand harvesting versus using a machine?

Overall I think the best we can hope for is that their choices are in line with the quality of the wine. Expensive wine can afford decent packaging, but I'd be worried if my 2 buck chuck came with etched glass and raised lettering...

Blog comment by chris, Jan 29, 2008.

Capsules should be elegant, but not necessarily easy to remove. Like unwrapping gifts, peeling off the tin brings some excitement to a fresh opening.

Blog comment by Dan, Jan 29, 2008.

Perfect timing on the post. I am off to the Unified Grape Symposium in Sacramento tomorrow to meet some vendors and look for some new ones. We just got estimates for 2006 bottling happening later this Spring/Summer. And tin prices YOY have skyrocketed, coupled with the EURO exchange rate, I am looking at a 71% price increase on my capsules. Added to this a 15% increase for glass and not to mention the barrel prices we've seen shoot over tree-tops over the past couple of years due to currency exchange. (And this is the first year that we are actually seeing the suppliers themselves raise prices, first quotes came in at a 5% increase.) All in all, our wines are getting more and more expensive to make, but we are extremely content (and happy) to offer a quality product at a (fairly inexpensive) price (for Napa Valley standards). Not sure; however, with the price increases we are seeing this year that our owners will be willing to hold prices steady for the 2006 vintage. I'll keep you posted....

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Jan 30, 2008.

I enjoy pulling the capsule off without a foil cutter. Of course, I try not to be barbaric in public.

I'll have to do some field research to discover which types are easiest to remove in this fashion.

Blog comment by Annie, Jan 30, 2008.

i always end up cutting myself on these things when i peel them off. i must be really uncoordinated.

Blog comment by Alesha, Jan 31, 2008.

I find it reassuring to scrap off the foil with my wine opener, but then again I am not a big fan of screw caps on wine bottles.

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