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French vineyards uncork benefits of screw tops

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The familiar sound of corks popping may soon be consigned to history as French wines start dropping the traditional cork for the screw cap.

While New World wines have been sealed with screw caps for years -- with up to 90pc of New Zealand wines and 60pc of Australian bottles using them -- the French have been far more reluctant to change.

But according to one wine expert, two of the world's top names -- Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in Burgundy, whose bottles can sell for tens of thousands of pounds, and Bordeaux's legendary Chateau Margaux -- are now looking into screw caps.

Romanee-Conti would not comment on the sensitive issue, with screw caps still viewed as heresy by purists. But the director general of Chateau Margaux, Paul Pontallier, confirmed the Bordeaux domaine was trying them out.

"It's true, we've been doing tests for the past four or five years," he said. "But it's too early to say whether we will use them, as our wines are made to be kept."

However, one of Burgundy's best-known producers, Jean-Claude Boisset, has already started using them on top wines, including a £100-a-bottle 2005 Chambertin grand cru. This year, a third of the producer's 200,000 bottles will use screw caps.

Oxidation

"We started at the high end, because screw tops are perfect for fine wines that need to age, as they protect them better than cork from oxidation," said Gregory Patriat, head of bottling at Boisset.

"We had a lot of problems with cork stops in 2001," said Renaud Laroche, of the Laroche wine group in Burgundy.

"After that, we conducted lots of tastings and settled on screw tops."

His group now uses screw caps on its highest end wine, the Reserve de l'Obediance -- a white chablis grand cru that sells for more than £60 a bottle.

Of the seven billion wine bottles sealed each year, the number using screw caps has shot up from 300 million in 2003 to 2.5 billion this year. According to wine critic Robert Parker, bottles with corks will be in the minority by 2015. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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