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When I first began exploring the world of wine, I was intrigued by the metal foil and plastic coverings over the corks of wine bottles. They didn’t seem to have a purpose, so I set about learning more, and this is what I found.
The metal foil coverings over the corks of wine bottles are called capsules. These days the capsules on bottles of sparkling wine are made of tin or aluminum, while the capsules on bottles of still wine are made of plastic. Until the 1990s, capsules were made of lead before the FDA banned them.
Let’s look at the metal foil and plastic capsules on wine bottles in greater detail and learn what they do and how to remove them.
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What Is The Metal Foil On Wine Bottles
The proper name for the foil on wine bottles is the capsule. These days wine bottle capsules for still wine are mainly made from plastic which is shrink-wrapped over the neck and closure of the bottle.
Some capsules have a small piece of tin or aluminum covering the cork within the plastic capsule. The capsules for sparkling wine are made from tin or aluminum.
Before the advent of plastic capsules, either aluminum or tin was used for the capsules on still, as well as sparkling wine. Before the early 1990s, lead use was still commonplace in wine bottle capsules.
If you have an old bottle of wine in your cellar that predates the 1990s, your wine bottle will likely have a lead capsule. Lead capsules require greater care during removal to ensure you don’t contaminate your wine.
Modern plastic capsules can be removed by either cutting the capsule or removing it entirely by holding it firmly and twisting it off the neck of the bottle.
I have also seen people leaving the capsule on and pulling the cork straight through the top of the capsule. This last method leaves pieces of broken capsule partly covering the mouth of the bottle, resulting in a messy pour.
In formal settings such as restaurants and dinner parties, wine bottle capsules should always be neatly cut just below the lip of the bottle, allowing the top edge of the bottle to be cleaned with a napkin and a clean pour.
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What Does The Foil On A Wine Bottle Do?
These days, the foil capsule that includes the top of a wine bottle is purely decorative and makes the wine look more sophisticated and expensive.
Historically, wine bottle capsules had a different and essential function. They protected the cork from insects and stopped any rodents in the wine cellars from eating the cork. Damaged corks break the airtight seal on the wine, causing the bottle’s contents to be ruined by oxidation.
What Is The Foil On The Top Of The Wine Bottle Made Of?
Before the early 1990s, wine bottle capsules were made from lead. In 1991 the FDA announced that it was looking into banning the use of lead in wine bottle capsules following a lawsuit that required wineries to issue warnings on their bottles about the lead content.
To avoid the negative publicity of needing to put health warnings on wine bottles, wineries changed to using tin, aluminum, and later plastic for their capsules.
The FDA eventually banned the use of lead in wine bottle capsules in 1996, but by that stage, all the wineries in the United States had already stopped using lead capsules completely.
These days wine bottle capsules are nearly exclusively made of plastic and have a small piece of tin or aluminum covering the mouth of the bottle, protecting the top of the cork.
Modern capsules are entirely unnecessary and add expense and plastic waste. This is why many wineries have chosen to do away with capsules on their bottles to reduce costs and minimize the plastic wastage associated with serving wine.
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What Is The Wrapping On The Wine Bottle Called?
The wrapping on the top of a wine bottle is called a capsule and is generally made from plastic, with a small piece of tin or aluminum covering the mouth of the bottle directly over the cork.
Sparkling wine bottles have a capsule entirely made from either tin or aluminum.
Historically the capsule was used to protect the cork from rodents and insects in the wine cellar. Nowadays, wine bottle capsules are essentially decorative and help a wine bottle look more sophisticated and expensive.
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Do Wine Foils Still Have Lead?
Wine foils or wine capsules no longer have lead and haven’t contained lead since the early 1990s. However, if you have an older bottle of wine in your cellar that predates the 1990s, it will likely have a lead capsule.
If you have a bottle with a lead capsule, you must open it carefully. Inspect the bottle and lead capsule for any white residue when removing the capsule.
The white residue will be lead tartrate from the tartaric acid in the wine reacting with the lead in the capsule. If you see any lead tartrate, don’t be alarmed; you can wipe it off easily with a damp cloth before opening the bottle.
I always wipe the neck and mouth of the bottle both before and after opening a bottle of wine, irrespective of whether it has a lead capsule or a newer plastic capsule.
When Did They Stop Using Lead In Wine Foil?
Wineries used lead in their wine capsules up until the early 1990s. The FDA eventually banned the use of lead in wine foil capsules in 1996, but by that stage, wineries had already stopped using lead in closure systems altogether.
If you have an older bottle of wine in your wine cellar, it will likely still have a lead capsule. Similarly, if you order a particularly old bottle of wine in a restaurant, be aware that the bottle will have a lead capsule.
Ensure your waiter or sommelier is mindful of this and takes the necessary precautions when opening the bottle of wine before pouring it.
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How Do You Remove The Aluminum On The Top Of A Wine Bottle?
The way to remove the capsule from the top of a wine bottle depends entirely on the situation that you’re in. There is a formal way as well as a casual way to remove the capsule.
The formal way to remove the capsule from a wine bottle is to cut the capsule just below the lip, either using the small blade that is on your corkscrew or a specialist wine capsule cutter.
Always cut the capsule below the lip as it prevents the blade from slipping off the top of the bottle and causing you injury. I learned this the hard way and cut my thumb the first time I opened a bottle of wine using a waiter’s friend.
The casual way of removing the capsule from the top of a wine bottle is something that I’ve done many times while out on a picnic. I grasp the capsule firmly in my left hand and twist the bottle with my right hand.
Because the capsule is not fixed to the bottle but is shrink-wrapped over the outside of the neck, by twisting the bottle while holding the capsule family, I can turn and remove the entire capsule from the top of the bottle.
I learned this trick while helping a friend of mine at a winery during a particularly busy wine-tasting weekend. Twisting the capsule from the top of a bottle is far quicker than fiddling around with a capsule cutter or a tiny but sharp blade.
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Where Do You Cut The Foil On A Wine Bottle?
If you look closely at the top of your wine bottle, you will see a lip of glass just below the mouth of the bottle.
The best place to cut the capsule of a wine bottle will be just below the lip on the neck of the bottle. The reason is that the lip can stop the blade from slipping off the top of the bottle and causing injury.
Old bottles of wine have lead capsules. It would be best if you opened a bottle with a lead capsule you want to cut below the lip of the bottle so there’s no chance that any lead can come into contact with your wine while pouring.
Capsules cover the corks of wine bottles. The capsules on bottles of sparkling wine are made of tin or aluminum, while the capsules on still wine are made of plastic. Until 1991 capsules were made of lead.
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