The twistable cork that could prove to be a real show-stopper for wine lovers

ITtS long been a point of debate among wine buffs and even the most casual of drinkers: which produces the better bottle of wine, the cork or the screw top? Well, the much-loved original cork could be set for a return to the mass market in the form of a twistable and re-sealable version that could do away with the corkscrew.

The Helix cork and accompanying bottle have a thread finish to allow drinkers to twist the stopper open and closed again, creating an airtight barrier.

It will be unveiled at the International VinExpo wine fair in Bordeaux today, and its makers say it could be on shop shelves in Europe within the next 24 months.

The design is the result of a four-year collaboration between Portuguese cork manufacturer Amorim and US bottle maker O-I, who are aiming it at the £5 to £10 "popular premium" market.

It follows research that found an "overwhelming preference" among consumers for the cork and glass bottle combination.

The manufacturers have used agglomerated, or granulated, cork for the design, which they claim offers greater elasticity and reliability than standard stoppers to better protect the wine.

Wine makers have increasingly been using alternative stoppers in the form of metal screw caps or plastic to combat complaints about the inconsistent quality of cork and the resulting "cork taint" - the sour, musty taste that ruins a wine.

But O-I Europe president Erik Bouts said extensive testing of wine stored in Helix bottles had shown no alteration to the taste, aroma or colour after 26 months. And consumer research in France, the UK, the US and China has been met with "overwhelming acceptance".

Bouts said: "For centuries, cork and glass has been a winning combination in the wine market, yet it is only through this partnership that we have been able to create such a major innovation in the industry.

"Cork is still by far the preferred stopper.

"Our research has found that at least 80% of consumers prefer the cork and glass combination for their wine.

"It has the highest-quality image in the market and now we have made it easier to use. And it is still the most sustainable option."

Bouts said the cork also had the potential to be used for other forms of alcohol, including spirits.

Andy Baillie, manager of Spirited Wines in Cardiff, said: "The cork never really went away. To be honest, people always prefer a cork in a bottle to a screw top even though the screw top technology now has improved so much that there's no reason why you shouldn't have good quality wine under it.

"However, whether it be natural or synthetic the majority of customers do tend to prefer a cork just because it's the more traditional thing.

"Some people express a preference, particularly if it's going to be a gift.

"But for their own consumption I haven't noticed any particular aversion to screw cap - although people do have the impression that the screw cap wine will be of inferior quality even though it's generally not."

VINTAGE NEW TECHNOLOGY Neil Cammies, who writes the Western Mail's Straight Off The Vine column, said "It will be interesting to see how it will be received.

"I've got no snottiness about screw closure at all. I think that is a thing of the past, especially in the UK, where we have such a broad outlook to wine.

"We've embraced all sorts of technology, from wine boxes to screw closures to plastic corks.

"They've obviously thought 'let's bridge the gap between cork and screw closure and amalgamate the two'.

"It will be interesting to see who uses it as the old world are very reticent about moving to new technologies.

"Some people still love using a corkscrew because of the ceremony of it.

"It's the sense of occasion and enjoying the whole paraphernalia associated with drinking wine."

WINE EXPERT ANDY BAILLIE GIVES HIS VIEW "The wine cork originates from the Iberian peninsula.

"When the new world, particularly Australia and New Zealand, wine industry started taking off in the 1970s the demand for corks was such that the Portuguese would ship off the more inferior corks to the new world and keep the good ones for themselves.

"So the Aussies and New Zealanders got sick of having this stuff, and of having the cork taint the wine, so they essentially switched to screw-cap because they couldn't get the decent stuff.

"Now the cork-cleaning technology has improved so immensely that the number of spoilt bottles has reduced dramatically over the last few years.

"However, the antipodeans are still putting the vast majority of their wines in screw-cap bottles because it's tradition for them and they don't see why they should pay for the cork to come from Portugal anymore when they've got just as good closure of their own devising." Andy Baillie is manager of Spirited Wines in Cardiff.