AT ONE of my wine dinners in Alba, Italy, I had a beautiful Nebbiolo d’Alba from Giacomo Brezza, their Vigna Santa Rosalia 2017 vintage. This wine was a fresh and approachable expression of the normally rustic Nebbiolo (when young), and exuded nice floral, red fruit, peppery, and spicy notes that accompanied our antipasti. Aside from the pleasure of having 4th generation Giacomo Brezza owner Enzo Bressa seated next to me, I also saw a closure that I rarely have seen for wine bottles. It looks like an ordinary wine stopper but is made of glass and looks much classier and more elegant. Also, no need for a corkscrew to open the wine.
I found out from Enzo Bressa that this closure is called Vino-Lok — a German engineered product that came on the market in 2003 and is being produced by crystal glass producer Preciosa from the Czech Republic. Vino-Lok or Vino-Seal (as it is called in the US) is a hermetic bottle seal that uses glass as a stopper and has an elastic polymer ring to keep oxygen out. Like screwcaps, it also prevents TCA (trichloroanisole) contamination, also known as cork taint, which is the main issue with natural corks. Vino-Loks are also reusable and resealable. Enzo actually demonstrated how snugly fit this closure was on the bottle as he resealed his wine and shook the bottle upside down without spilling. Giacomo Brezza became the first winery in Barolo to use Vino-Lok, and has done so for over 10 years now. Enzo said their winery has been extremely happy using this closure, and, more importantly, there have been no complaints from their customers.
STILL A NICHE
Vino-Lok is still pretty much a niche in the wine industry. Given that this closure has been available since 2003, and I only got to see it earlier this year already tells me that Vino-Lok has not gone mainstream yet. Out of hundreds of thousands of wineries existing in the world, and Italy has probably the bulk of them, only 300-400 wineries are using this closure. The reason is probably the cost.
According to Enzo Bressa, Vino-Lok costs easily 20% more than cork, and is much more expensive than a screwcap. Also, there is the issue of bottling machines — this type of closure may need a compatible bottling system that can obviously add to the cost of wine production.
As far as I am concerned, the most convincing argument for Vino-Lok being a great alternative to natural cork is its environment-friendly quality. Glass is only made from natural materials and it is 100% recyclable, something screwcaps made from aluminum cannot claim.
GOING HIGH END
I first heard about the Vino-Lok closure when Henschke, Australia’s premier winery, decided to use this closure for their iconic wine Hill of Grace, a wine that costs P40,000 in the Philippines. Henschke already raised some eyebrows when in 2005, they bottled their Hill of Grace, easily one of Australia’s most expensive wines, with Stelvin, the pioneering brand of screwcap. Henschke then switched from Stelvin to Vino-Lok in 2011, with their 2008 Hill of Grace vintage the first using this new closure.
And for me, the Vino-Lok looks much better for the Hill of Grace. The winery I am sure must have believed in the age-ability and cellaring potential of this closure to go right ahead with this move.
When I look at Vino-Lok, I see this closure as a better fit for spirits and fortified wines — those types of alcoholic beverages you do not finish in one sitting. The glass stopper adds more stature to the usual closure known as the bar top stopper made from cork, synthetics, or a combination. The resealable and snug-fit qualities of Vino-Lok make it really ideal for a good vintage port. And it looks very aesthetically pleasing as well.
The Vino-Lok is certainly not an original idea as I have seen various types of glass closures for the longest time. What is top of mind is the elegant glass stopper used by the super expensive cognac Louis XIII. I think I still see some of these old bottles at home since my parents would not throw them away. But using Vino-Lok for ports, sherries and spirits make a lot of sense.
I am still on the fence whether this is a wine closure I like. What matters to me is if I can get some of my favorite Grand Cru Bordeaux to accept this glass closure over their perennial cork. The Grand Cru Bordeaux would not touch Stelvin with a 10-foot-pole, but who knows if Vino-Lok could change that.
The jury is, however, still out if Vino-Lok can age wines as well as tradition-proven cork closures. I do hope to see, 20 years from now, my kids coming over to celebrate Father’s Day, bringing with them a nice vintage Pauillac bottle that has a shiny glass stopper underneath its capsule.
The author is a member of the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at www.twitter.com/sherwinlao.