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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

If you opened a bottle of wine over the holidays, you may have noticed something. Increasingly, wine is being sealed with screw caps instead of corks. As NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, some winemakers like screw caps because they seal in freshness and they're convenient. But don't put a cap on the cork just yet.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: There's a ritual to opening a bottle of wine. Just ask sommelier Lucas Paya.

LUCAS PAYA: So we're going to - I'm going to present you this wine bottle of wine. And this is the Pares Balta Mas Petit from Penedes.

AUBREY: Paya oversees the wine list of a dozen restaurants in the D.C. area, including here at Jaleo. Tonight, as he turns the label towards his guests, he moves in close to the table for a bit of show and tell.

PAYA: They want to see the label or they want to just, you know, touch the bottle.

AUBREY: As he describes the wine...

CORNISH: 84 percent cabernet and then the remaining is garnatxa, grenache.

AUBREY: He pulls off the corkscrew from the holster on his belt and gracefully slices away the foil that covers the cork...

PAYA: Now, we're going to open it.

AUBREY: ...which means we're about to get that...

(SOUNDBITE OF POPPING)

AUBREY: Ah, that sound.

PAYA: That's the sound. That's what we want.

(LAUGHTER)

PAYA: That you don't get with screw caps.

AUBREY: For Paya, who's a traditionalist, cork is still very much part of the wine world. He says despite the fast-rising popularity of screw cap tops, he does not see cork disappearing.

PAYA: When it comes to the higher-end wines, cork is still kind of a must-have.

AUBREY: But increasingly, the screw cap has begun appearing on some pretty good wines. And winemakers say there's a reason. James Foster, the head winemaker at Cupcake Vineyards in California, says choosing screw caps over a cork comes down to science. He explains, for many of his white wines, a cork is not ideal because it can let in a little bit of air, which can change the taste. The screw cap, on the other hand...

JAMES FOSTER: It keeps it sealed and does not allow oxygen to enter into the bottle.

AUBREY: Now, Foster has not given up on cork. He uses it for some of his red wines.

FOSTER: Bigger, fuller malt-filled wines, for example, Red Velvets and cabernet, benefit from a little oxygen that the cork naturally allows the wine to intake while in the bottle.

AUBREY: This is important in aging. And Foster says, in his red wines, the little bit of oxygen can help improve the taste.

FOSTER: It allows the wine to become even more drinkable and approachable to our consumers.

AUBREY: Now, since the vast majority of wine produced today is not intended to be cellared and aged but rather consumed and enjoyed immediately, Foster says the screw cap has a lot going for it. It preserves the taste the winemaker created. And for us, the consumer, the screw cap offers simplicity.

FOSTER: That's easy to open and it's convenient.

AUBREY: Sommelier Lucas Paya says, yeah, he absolutely agrees with the convenience factor. Anyone can get a screw top open.

PAYA: Opening a screw cap bottle is so easy, it's idiot-proof, right?

AUBREY: Idiot-proof.

PAYA: It is idiot-proof.

AUBREY: Paya says he hopes he doesn't see the day that the uncorking ritual disappears. But he says it is the taste that truly matters. So with an open mind, he unscrews a bottle that's enclosed with a screw cap.

PAYA: Let's taste it.

AUBREY: He gets two glasses and pours.

PAYA: This is like almost chocolatey and very red fruity. Oh, I really like it.

AUBREY: So just as we're told not to judge a book by its cover, even sommeliers say don't judge a wine simply by how it's sealed. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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