Twist-off cork shifts the wine paradigm

What could be nicer than a picnic in a pleasant country field, a rotisserie chicken, a loaf of oven-hot bread and a nice bottle of wine? That is, provided you don't forget the corkscrew. This week, Amorim, the world’s largest manufacturer of cork stoppers, and O-I, the world's largest glass container manufacturer, made this nightmare scenario a little less likely by unveiling their Helix cork and bottle that are designed so that the cork can be removed with a simple twist of the wrist.

The Helix “twist to open” system consists of an ergonomically-designed cork stopper and a glass bottle with an internal thread finish in the neck. Instead of requiring a corkscrew, it opens like a screw-top bottle, though with the addition of a pleasant “pop.” It is also resealable as easily as it opens.

Metal and plastic screw tops for wine bottles seem pretty logical. They keep the contents inside, keep the air out, they’re easy to open and, unlike corks, are just as easy to reseal. Modern screw tops work well. Unlike the older ones that were completely airtight, the latest versions are permeable to allow for gas exchange between the contents and the air.

However, in many markets, wine is seen as an upmarket beverage and the bottle-and-cork storage is an integral part of this, while screw tops tend to be associated in the minds of consumers with strange old men sitting in the park drinking out of paper bags. As a result, even the most ordinary of vin ordinaires sold in the supermarket will be in a green glass bottle with a cork stopper.

Amorim and O-I's Helix is a screw cork and bottle system aimed at the popular premium, fast turnaround, non-sparkling table wine market. The aim is that in an era when wine now comes in boxes, cartons and even cans, they can keep the appeal of glass bottles sealed with corks.

“Helix meets consumers’ growing desire for sustainability and quality, while delivering the brand building and premium image packaging wineries rely upon,” says Antonio Amorim, Chairman and CEO of Amorim. “We are delighted to offer the market not only a 100-percent renewable, modern product, but also a solution that enhances the wine drinking experience through opening and resealing convenience.”

A cork may seem as simple a piece of technology possible and that making one that screws in and out should be child’s play, but there’s more to a simple stopper than meets the sommelier’s tastevin.

A cork stopper works by absorbing wine into it and expanding to form a nearly airtight, yet breathable seal. This is the reason why wine is properly stored on its side with the neck angled slightly down to allow the wine to remain in contact with the cork. At the same time, the cork mustn’t absorb the wine too readily or it will soak through. Additionally, the cork shouldn’t react with the wine or the result will be a glass of something ghastly. Corks also keep the wine from going bad by allowing oxygen to migrate back through, which combats the build up of sulfides, so you don’t open a bottle of what smells like rotten eggs.

Since the Helix cork is formed by pressing cork fragments in a mold rather than cut straight from the cork tree bark, four years of development and testing by Amorim and O-I was undertaken before they had a stopper that could not only screw in and out, but would also do the job of a traditional cork.

As part of the testing, non-sparkling white wine was bottled and stored horizontally at 35º C (95º F) for 30 days. In addition, extensive tests were carried out that involved storing the wine for 26 months to ensure there was no effect on the wine’s taste, aroma or color.

The makers also point to Helix’s green credentials, citing the sustainable nature of glass bottles, which are easily recycled, and cork stoppers, which are made by removing the bark without felling any trees. They also say that the system can be used by wineries with only a minor adjustment to existing filling lines.