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May 17, 2010

The humble cork may soon be phased out altogether in the wine industry, with some winemakers moving to replace it on bottles of sparkling wine. 

Villa Maria has replaced its cork on methode traditionelle with a crown seal, while Matua Valley is trialing the use of a screw closure, called a zork, on its bubbly. 

The move away from corks began in New Zealand in 2001, with the use of screw caps for still wine. More than 90% of all wine produced in the country is now enclosed with screw tops. 

Villa Maria's export and public relations manager Ian Clark says crown seals are used during the traditional winemaking process when bubbly sits on its side for a couple of years. 

Mr Clark says usually, winemakers replace the seal just before its release with a cork, but Villa Maria is instead replacing it with a crown seal.

"Cork, I suppose, has been traditional, but they've actually had a crown seal on between the production of the wine and the finished product. All we've done is just put the crown seal back on." 

The wine can be opened using a beer opener, making it safer than an unpredictable cork, he says. 

"People say they like the pop, but they don't drink the pop. It's what you get in the mouth - what the taste is like - that's far superior." 

Matua Valley in Auckland has been using a zork screw top for its sparkling sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Senior winemaker Nikolai St George says the re-sealable top is convenient for consumers to use and stops cork taint. 

New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan says sparkling wine does not have the same issues with cork taint and random oxidation as still wine, so there has not been urgency to change the existing bottle closures. 

However, he says any innovation is good for the industry, but it will be up to consumers to decide whether sparkling wine is better without a cork.