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   Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009

 

 

 

 

 

The Quest Continues (12 Dec)

 

The hottest emotional debate for many consumers in the wine world is still the cork versus screwcap debate. There are diehard supporters in both camps; some with more rabid opinions than the most dedicated POME soccer fan, and that’s saying something ‘guvner’.

 

For years I have been asking wineries about their attitude toward closures and the reasons behind those attitudes. In many cases the answers shocked me because it indicated the winery’s monumental ignorance, and that comment applies to those on both sides of the debate. Some wineries were staying with cork because of the romance of extracting a tree bark plug, whilst others did not believe that TCA was an issue. On the other side of the fence, some wineries were prepared to dive in and convert to screwcaps without doing any research, or more importantly, ensure their wine was suitably prepared for screwcaps.

 

On this trip, when I asked questions about wineries choice of closure, for the first time, most of the answers made sense, and that applies to both the wineries that have moved to screwcap and those that are sticking with cork. As you will see in this story, there are still issues with both choices. And there are still some wineries that are shall we say either misguided or need a better understanding of the issues.

 

Some really interesting comments came from a variety of winemakers and winery representatives, some of them may shock you.

 

Geoff Johnston at Pirramimma stated a theory about corks I have not heard previously. In his opinion, the more you treat cork in the manufacturing process to try and eliminate cork taint, the faster the molecular cell structure of the cork will break down, which means whilst on one hand you are improving the likelihood of reducing TCA, on the other for long term ageing, you are exposing the wine to a greater chance of oxidisation. Is this true? I have no idea but it is food for thought when thinking about the use of Diam, Twin-Top, and the “new technology” corks that one major cork company is promoting.

 

d’Arenberg certainly know what they are doing and what they are talking about when it comes to closures. The winery has now (almost) completely switched to alternative closures, primarily screwcaps, but there are some wines sealed with Zork. In 2002, the winery started doing trials where they sealed some wine under cork and some under screwcap. According to Mark Bolton, the screwcap wines have consistently been better and remained fresher for longer. A further reason for switching to alternative closures came about after the 2004 vintage.

 

Although each batch of corks is tested prior to use, they lost twenty five percent of their icon wines from the 2004 vintage to cork taint. Luckily the wines had not been released, and due to stringent quality control measures, standards and procedures, they were able to track the problem back to one particular Spanish supplier’s batch of corks. A huge exercise was mounted to ensure the problem had been isolated and exact details were required for the insurance claim. It cost the winery a big bundle of bucks, because although the claim was paid, the insurance only paid for the cost of production, not the loss of profit.

 

When I asked Justin at Samuel’s Gorge he said, "Don't get me started on corks, I'll be here all day. People take one look at what I'm doing and think that I don't embrace technology. Doing old world stuff is not just about doing old world stuff; I believe the flavour lies with old world techniques. At Tatachilla, I was heavily involved in a lot of experimentation with different types of closures, from the $10 Chardonnay through the whole range to the Foundation Shiraz. In blind tasting we found we could easily pick the difference between the wines sealed with Stelvin the wines sealed with cork. They evolve very differently, so you have to decide what you want to express to the audience.

 

Today's modern winemaker should have the flexibility to fit the right type of closure to suit their wine. When you start embracing complex arsenals of oak the addition of things gets complicated. As a winemaker I want some doe characters from the lees contact, some funkiness from the micro organisms that derive from the ferment, and there might even be a level of Brett that is undetectable to the normal palate, but these types of wines are disjointed under Stelvin. So, with my wines which are earthy and which are very complex, the harmony works better under cork, as it does with anything that steps out of the cliché, ‘fruit’ wines.

 

The argument then has to focus on the crap corks we get, and the failure rate is a real issue. To overcome that, I now deal directly with a Spanish supplier and import directly from the producer. I don't have intermediate people playing games, and the corks are as reliable as hell. Their quality control is a lot better than any Australian supplier, and I have worked with a few. I open a lot of my own booze, and if I found five wines that were corked or were suffering from random oxidisation in any given release it would be a lot. My corks are astonishingly reliable.

 

I think that Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have been plagued with getting some of the worst quality corks in the world.

 

Up until 10 or 15 years ago, the barrel industry didn't take us seriously either, but since then, the quality has improved significantly. The same thing will eventually happen with cork.

 

 

My wines have been packaged and designed to grace a dining table for occasions that are special. It would give a different vibe under Stelvin. I love Stelvin for the right reasons; I love Felton Road. Some of the press is very rabid in the debate, rather than accepting the positives on all levels.

 

I am frustrated by the reductive wines I open that have been sealed under screwcap, but I think that many consumers wouldn't know what ‘reductive’ actually is; I know people that will pick up a wine and go “that has a pong,’ and not realise it is reductive. I am not anti-Stelvin, I just want people to know the whole story. The other frustrating thing about Stelvins is that it is a time capsule. The wines take a lot of time to open up. You buy a current vintage Riesling in a restaurant because you want a drink it now but it's often a harsh acid bomb.

 

Mike Brown at Gemtree did a trial where they bottled exactly the same wine from 2004 in both screwcap and cork. Although it was only bottled a few months ago, the differences between the two freshly opened bottles were startling when we tried the samples side by side.

 

What would you expect, the screwcap one to be fresher, or would it be dumb and closed? Bear in mind, one of the major reasons for using screwcaps (especially) in white wine to keep the wine vibrant and fresh. In the case of the two samples we tried, the one that was sealed under cork was actually fresher and more approachable than the same wine sealed under screwcap. The aromatics on the bouquet of the bottle sealed with cork was bright and vibrant, on the one that was sealed with a screwcap, it was tight and brooding.

 

Mike summed it up well when he said, "For me, the tannin is more integrated on the cork sealed wine and the acid is sticking out in the Stelvin. That's now. In eight years time, the Stelvin sealed wine will be beating it and at 15 years of age it will still be kicking, whilst the cork sealed wine will be dead.”

 

Based on my personal experience, after some/many hours in a decanter, the chances are Stelvin sealed wine will open right up, and both samples will be pretty even. Mike agreed and felt that would be the case for approximately the first 12 months after bottling, but from there on in, the scenario would change. (From my experience, it is likely to be longer than 12 months.)

 

This experiment will not change Gemtree’s policy; the majority will still be under screwcap, however it does give them a reference point and more information than was previously available. Mike thinks that in the future there will be wines where he will say, “This needs to go under cork”, and he is delighted he has a choice of seals.

 

From a logical perspective, in the case of red wines that have been designed to be consumed in their youth, Mike feels that because they show better when they are young, they should be sealed under cork, and not Stelvins. He has a point.

 

Honi Dolling at Chain of Ponds stated the cork producers have lifted their game, but he then went on to compare the corks available overseas with those available in Australia. Recently Honi opened up three inexpensive bottles of French Pinot Grigio, (equivalent of about $25 Australian.) He said, “These corks did not have one brown spot or one fissure in them. The quality of those corks was considerably higher than almost anything obtainable in Australia, so why can't we get them here?”

 

Tim Smith of Tim Smith Wines was not backward in coming forward with his thoughts in relation to closures. He started off by saying, "It's not as simple as saying screwcaps will fix all your problems. If you think about the winemaking process holistically, you have to think about everything from the way the grapes are grown in the vineyard right through the whole process until the bottle is opened.

 

Since this wine of mine is a Barossa Shiraz, I unashamedly make it reductively. It's stored on lees in the same way that people have been making Chardonnay for the last 15 years. I won't bore you with the chemistry of the differences between reds and Chardonnay but it's not simple. Just because it works for Chardonnay, doesn't mean it's going to work for reds.

 

In the case of Cabernet Sauvignon, do screwcaps work for wines that are meant to be drunk young? No. Cabernet needs to get a gut full of oxygen, so it comes as no great surprise that an increased used of micro-ox has come about in order to get young cabernets onto the market.

 

Wine doesn’t stop evolving once it goes into bottle and you have to close it in a manner that compliments the winemaking style. What is the grape variety that gets most bagged for being reductive? Cabernet! And it’s more at risk under screwcap.

 

I make two different styles of Shiraz. One is a blood and guts, classic old-style Barossa Shiraz that needs lots of air and has spent two years in 100% new French oak. It will be sealed under cork. The other one I'm happy to bottle under screwcap as it is a different style of wine.

 

The only reason I went to screwcap in the first place was because I couldn't find a cork supplier I could trust. My decision has not been, ‘is it cork or screwcap.’ It's been what will suit the wine best. I know that in every case of wine I sell with cork, there will be one bottle in there that the buyer won't be happy with, so what do I do? I hold back a few cases of wine and when someone rings up with a problem bottle, I replace it.”

 

Tim's thoughts certainly held true a few days later when we went to Murray Street Winery. The majority of the wines are good, good enough for Brian, John and I to buy, however, none of their wines are filtered or fined, and unfortunately a few labels were reductive, and not particularly pleasant.

 

All the wines we tried Kaesler were sealed under cork. When I queried Reid about this he stated that from a technical perspective, he had nothing against screwcaps. Almost all the reds he produces are unfiltered and unfined and are likely to have residual organic matter. Whilst adding copper is an option, he would prefer not to do so. Reid openly admitted they didn't find many corked bottles of red at cellar door, but felt that may have been due to the intensity of their wines, and if they were mildly corked, most people wouldn't notice.

 

Reid then proceeded to tell us an engaging anecdote. There was a Portuguese guy that worked in the Barossa for a short period of time, and Reid had dinner with him a couple of times. He point-blank told Reid that the Portuguese cork industry knows where the bad corks are and they know where they are sending them. Reid admitted when he thought about what he had been told, it did not surprise him. He went on to state, "The Portuguese are a lovely people, and they are not stupid. To a certain extent it's a government business, and in typical Mañana fashion, it didn't sink in until after the Australia industry finally decided to do something about the problem themselves.

 

Three years after Jeffrey Grosset put his Riesling under Stelvin, Australia was turning out two hundred and forty million bottles sealed under screwcap. Stelvin now probably represents approximately 40% of the Australian market and that entire segment has been lost by the cork industry. We got very tired of the cork industry’s apathy and ignorance, but the quality of the corks we are getting now is an improvement.

 

In the scheme of things, if you are selling a bottle of wine for $120, you wouldn't care if the cork cost $5. What really irritates me is that when you pull the cork from a quality Portuguese Vintage Port, or a First or Second Growth, the corks are beautiful and unblemished. I don't have a [fixed] budget for cork; all I want them to do is give me the best.”

 

Dan Standish at Massena is another producer that is sticking with cork. He firmly believes with cork that you get what you pay for, and is currently forking out $1.50 per cork to ensure that he gets the best available.

 

After we struck a mildly corked bottle of one of his wines the subject of closures came up in earnest. Dan said, "Every bottle of wine is different, even under screwcap. It's about the food and the environment, so every bottle of wine tasted is different, regardless of the fact that the wine is the same. I love the fact that in a case of wine, those twelve bottles are all different.

 

We make real, living wines; we don't filter, we don't fine. If you clean up the wines, you are stripping the life out of them and if you stick them under a screwcap, it's not an evolving, living thing. When you are making a handmade wine, it is a real, living thing that needs to breathe. Cork is a natural product that makes sense.

 

There are wines that are filtered and are fined, that are more like the Coca-Cola brands of the wine world; they are higher volume and lower price point (wines up to $25), and are sealed under screwcap, and that's fine. The most obvious thing to me about screwcaps is that they are ****ing ugly. The cork producers have lifted their game and now you can get really good quality cork.”

 

Rockford is a pro cork winery. Prior to the start of our Rockford long lunch, we gathered in the Stonewall tasting room for pre-lunch drinks. There was a gentleman who appeared to be in his mid to late 60’s and he looked like he knew his wine stuff. He was swirling his wine and sniffing the bouquet like a real pro. We had a chat and it turned out he had a good cellar, and had been on the mailing list of wineries like Rockford and Wendouree for decades.

 

Whilst we were having lunch, the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon was served. I received the first pour and he received the third. I took one sniff and knew it was rank with cork taint. (Why the wines weren't checked before they were poured I don't know, or if they were checked, the staff needs lessons on detecting TCA, but that's another story.) I didn't say anything to see what the reaction would be around the table. Our mate took his glass sniffed it, and drank it quite happily. The next person, who sniffed the wine, screwed up her face into a grimace like she was sucking on sour lemon, took one sip and in no uncertain terms, pronounced the wine corked. In reality, she knew it was badly corked before she even tasted it.

 

Our mate said he couldn't see it and thought the wine was fine. When a fresh bottle was poured, someone suggested that he keep his old glass, so he could compare the badly corked wine against a pristine example. He sniffed one wine and then sniffed the other. He looked perplexed. He then tasted one wine and then tasted the other and said, "I can't see it."

 

This scenario has not been detailed to criticise or belittle the person involved. It has been made to illustrate a point; some people are much less sensitive to TCA than others. Here we have a classic example of somebody who has been drinking up-market premium wines for decades and wouldn't know a corked wine if it hit him over the head with a baseball bat. If our mate is indicative of most of Rockford's customers, no wonder they are happy to stick with cork as their seal of choice for red wine.

 

Whilst we were discussing corks at our Rockford lunch, we were talking about the 1996 Shiraz and the bottle variation in the three bottles that had been served.  Lynette (our host) stated Robert O’Callaghan actually looked forward to bottle variation in a case of the same wine. I could not believe that statement; it made absolutely no sense to me. To see if it was just me who thought this was crazy, I posed a question the West Coast Wine Network Wine Forum. The reason I selected this forum is that it is a conservative US wine forum, with a good cross section of opinions, and it is not dominated by screwcap supporters. I asked, “Forgetting about the closure debate for a minute and if you prefer cork or screwcaps: I was at a well respected and very highly regarded "traditional" winery recently where the winemaker was quoted as saying, ‘I like to think that bottle variation is a good thing and don't think all wines out of a box should be exactly the same.’

 

The question, do you agree or disagree with this sentiment?”

 

I am glad to know that I have not gone crazy and lost my marbles, the vast majority of the people who answered said no, they did not like bottle variation – and most of the respondents prefer wine sealed under cork. The thread can be found here.

 

Jacob’s Creek/Orlando is one of the Australia’s largest producers so their opinion was sought. I spoke to Edouard Beaslay General Manager Global Marketing. When I asked him if their company was happy with corks, in a very diplomatic way, the unambiguous answer was, no, but he stated that for a long time there was no alternative. After extensive trials, all whites and about seventy percent of their reds are now sealed under screwcap. Cork is only used for certain export markets and even in those markets there is a gradual but growing acceptance of screwcaps. Edouard is of the opinion that in a few years time their wines will be totally sealed under screwcap.

 

 The company has no concerns with reds under screwcaps and the winemakers have enough experience to make sure their wine suits the closure. They are supremely confident that screwcaps are the best seals for their wines. When I asked if the company was happy with the quality of corks they were receiving, I received a “corporate answer” that could have come from Sir Humphrey Applebee (Yes Minister,) but it ended with “screwcap are an enhancement.” No wonder! In a follow up question when I asked if the corks they were receiving now were better than the corks they got five years ago, the initial answer was yes but then Edouard went on to say, “with natural corks there are things that can not be controlled by technical actions so whilst they are better than they used to be, they still have issues.” Finally when asked if the corks in they received in Europe were better quality than those they received in Australia, the answer was no.

 

According to my mate Brian who was a steward at the 2007 National Wine Show in Canberra, 2005 seems to be the turning point for premium reds under screwcaps.  At the NWS in November, the younger red classes were predominantly under screwcap. In the “Small Volume Commercial Class, 2005 and Older,” the proportion of screwcaps was over 40%. The older classes had more corks.  Records were kept of the number of corks versus screwcaps in each class and the number of wines re-poured due to faults, but Brian doesn’t know if this information will be published. Let’s hope it sees the light of day.

 

When I started doing the research for this story, I had no idea what I would find and how I would feel about the findings. I have always maintained an open unbiased opinion on this subject but finally, I have made up my mind about where I stand on this hot topic.

 

Firstly, let me once again state that I absolutely hate the negative impact can corks can impart on wine, be it cork taint, oxidation or significant bottle variation. These problems are exactly the reasons why screwcaps have gained forty percent of the Australian closure market, and they will continue to gain ground in other countries. The cork industry only has itself to blame for the loss of market share.

 

Corks do have some pluses, and if I think about them long enough I am sure I can overcome my negativity towards them and think of some, good logical reasons for their use.

 

Screwcaps have a number of positives. No cork taint and no oxidation, so in theory we would be way in front by adopting them. But there are a number of downsides.

 

  1. Bottling unfiltered and unfined wines under them is risky and reduction is a very real concern for those wines. Cork or Diam are a better alternative.

  2. Bottle variation and defective bottles do happen under screwcaps. Admittedly it is far less than under cork, but they are not a perfect seal in every case.

  3. Screwcap supporters will tell you that the screwcap wines are kept fresher and that’s true, but there is a big downside, especially in very young wine. I am finding that in their embryonic stage, wine sealed under screwcap is often locked up tight, far tighter than the same wine sealed under cork. If someone wants to consume those wines in their youth, they do not show as well as if they had been sealed under cork, and in reality the screwcap sealed wines often need hours in a decanter to open up. That’s not convenient when opening wine in a restaurant, or opening a bottle at the last moment at home.

  4. Over the last few months I have tried more reds under screwcaps than ever before. Many of the very young reds show pronounced acidity and make the wine appear to be almost disjointed. It is certainly not a good look. Over time, this will subside, but when consumed young, it has a negative impact on the perception.

  5. Based on a number of recent experiences, bottle shock seems to be a much bigger issue with screwcap red wine than those sealed with cork. Once this is realised, it will have a bigger effect than just making life difficult for people reviewing wine who are sent early samples. It will mean that wineries will have to hold some red wines after bottling for longer, or risk having consumers reject their wines because they are not showing well.

  6. Although this won’t be an issue for most people, at this point, most wine sealed under screwcap will take longer to mature.

 

In James Halliday’s latest Wine Companion, of the first twenty Shiraz wines listed that rate ninety-seven or ninety-six points, fifteen of them are sealed under cork, two under Diam and only three under screwcap. Coincidence? I don’t think so and those numbers are food for thought. 

 

So where do I stand now? My opinion is going to be the complete opposite to “conventional thought” but that is because I am looking at the situation logically, not based on hype or any industry influence.

 

In the case of whites, I have no opinion as I don’t drink them.

 

Reds that have any reductive characters, or are unfiltered and unfined, need to be sealed under cork to show their best.

 

Reds that are to consumed young, contrary to popular opinion will probably show better under cork in their youth, than screwcaps.

 

Reds that are “clean” and are designed to be consumed with a few years of bottle age will be better off being sealed under screwcap.

 

Micro-oxygenation used in conjunction with screwcaps may be able to overcome the “locked” and “noticeable acid” problems when wines are young, and is a very viable option.

 

Neither cork nor screwcaps are a perfect closure, but the more I experience screwcaps and analyse their impact with a critical, open objective mind, the less I like them as a “general solution.” Winemakers need to work out what best suits their wine and go with that solution. There is no “right” answer, but there sure is the ability to stuff it up and make the wrong choice.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I still hate what corks do to wine far too frequently, and wonder why Australia is still receiving such poor quality corks, despite what the industry tells us about cleaning up their act. 

 

Diam may be the answer, but I have not seen enough of them over a long enough timeframe to be confident they are the perfect solution.

 

The industry is moving to screwcaps on reds, no doubt about it, but in the short terms there will be issues (as outlined above.) Those issues will have to be resolved and resolved quickly. There are solutions but wineries will need to realise its not as simple as shoving a bit of metal onto the top of a bottle.

 

(I did approach Hardy Wine Company and Fosters for comment, asking for a name of someone to interview. Fosters did not respond to my email request. Hardy’s took a week to send me this official position paper dated January 2006.)

 

 

 

Feel free to submit your comments!

From: Ian Hongell

12/12/2007 00:33:45 Since 2001, our experiences with screw caps (Peter Lehmann) have made us embrace this closure more and more. It may not be the final closure we come to rest with but it the most reliable closure that is available in the market.

Wine is living and does change and continues to change under screw cap.

I also disbelive that customers are happy to have a box of different wines. They want the one they bought. When comments on a closure influences on wine are made I think it only can be determined under blind conditions. These opinions can only be formed when a wine is bottled from the same run and is closed using both methods and later compared. Obviously not everyone can do that. I guess there have been plenty of trials done and embracement of screwcap may indicate the results from behind closed doors.


From: Tom Sankey

12/12/2007 08:59:07 An interesting topic, but a rather unwieldy discussion.
A few points:
1. You mention "reductive" characteristics, but never really define either how this occurs or why Stelvin closures should be more susceptible. Nor do you give your readers any real insight into what a "reductive" wine might taste or smell like other than the comment "that has a pong" - whatever that means.

2. Winemakers have dealt with the vagaries of cork for at least two hundred years and have learned to produce wines to suit that closure, but the relationship with Stelvin closures has seriously been studied for only about the past ten years. I don't think we're yet in a position to make any definitive judgements. Some good testable hypotheses are needed at this point.

3. Much of your evidence for the various different characteristics of wine from screwcap and cork closures is either anecdotal or comprises unfounded assertions ("most wine sealed under screwcap will take longer to mature" - why? according to what evidence?), and this is mixed haphazardly with some genuine science and worthwhile statistics. It is a technique used by real estate scammers and late-night TV beauty products. You need to be careful.

4. Your list of opinions at the close is presented without the aid of any clearly connected argument. I'm left with no understanding as to why you hold them. You are, of course, entitled to your voice, but this will not stimulate a logical discussion, but serves only to uncork a wave of 'unfiltered' opinions. Is this your intention?

Stimulated and frustrated,

Tom Sankey


From: TORB

12/12/2007 12:44:07 Tom,

I guess you want me to write a book about the subject, because that is about the only way I can answer all your questions fully.

1. If you want to find out a bit about reduction and how it occurs, check out this link. http://www.torbwine.com/pa/2006/damnedorscrewed.shtml

2. A lot of the work you suggest has been completed, although the results in many cases are proprietary.

3. You may think that different characteristics, like wine taking longer to mature under screwcaps are "anecdotal" or "unfounded assertions" but I can assure you they are not. I doubt there is a single winemaker out there who would argue that wine under screwcaps take longer to mature.

Some things are known as facts because screwcaps were around in the 1970's, and recent trials have been going for a decade, so science does know some things about the process of how wine ages.

Please don't tell me I need to be careful and intimate or compare my work with a real estate scammer. I am not in a court of law and don't need to "prove" anything beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you want imperial proof rather than an opinion, I suggest you pay for subscriptions to a number of industry and scientific publications, but the problem is that in many cases you will still get "opinions" rather than 100% concrete facts.

4. I presented my findings based on conversations with many winemakers and their experience with closures. Those "arguments" are listed thought out the whole article. Perhaps I was being naive in thinking that after reading the copy, people would be able to work it out for themselves.

As far as "unfiltered opinion" versus "logical discussion" is concerned, to a great extent you are correct. However the only way you will get definitive "logical opinion" is to get a bunch of tech heads together with chemists and winemakers, because otherwise in the main, the opinion will be "unfiltered."


From: Tom Sankey

12/13/2007 01:59:59 An excellent and considered response. And I'm sorry if I seemed offensive in my comment about real estate scammers! God knows you aren't trying to sell anyone anything. I suppose you are correct in pointing out that if I require more precise information I should seek out the appropriate technical journals.

I should add that I am an avid reader and fan of you website, and often find much that is of interest. I just tend to be too argumentative by nature. If I come across as critical, it's only because I'm keen to learn more about this aspect of wine and feel frustrated. You are hardly responsible for being an authority on the issue, and I apologise if I seemed to put you in that position. At least your article is a starting point - think of my comments as being meant for the next writer on the topic.

All the best,

Tom Sankey


From: TORB

12/13/2007 02:17:47 Tom, Thanks very much for this second response. I must admit that when first read your original comments I wondered if you were for real, a wind up merchant or a dummy. Its just as well I thought it was probably the first option.

In my quest for "absolute, verifiable" information on this topic, I totally understand your frustration; I have felt it in spades.

The lack of published research is palpable. The lack of understanding and knowledge by many producers, especially many of the small ones is frightening. I have lost count of the number of wineries that have asked me which way they should go with closures. And there is no thought to the wine style and how the closure will ultimately affect the wine.

At least now some concrete results can be seen, even if they are not published or scientifically verifiable. The smoke is clearing and the real facts are starting to emerge. At long last!


From: n4sir

12/14/2007 20:09:45 This is another interesting story Ric, and Ive got possibly another couple of things to chew over.

There are many old examples of wines under screwcap, but the phenomenon of the kind of bulk bottling thats happened over the last few years is new. Its had definite teething problems and the issue you brought up of reductive qualities and dissolved oxygen is one of them. Grant Burge lost two complete vintages of their Thorn Riesling because of bottle fit errors resulting in the whole lot being oxidized twice in a row. They swore never to use screwcap again until a couple of years ago market pressure and production improvements forced them to switch, successfully this time.

I went to a couple of Adelaide Hills wineries in Lobethal last week who have different stories too. One is absolutely chuffed to have made the complete switch to screwcap and hasnt looked back - the other bottled two of his wines under screwcap and isn't happy with the results, and after trying them I have to say they do look surprisingly advanced or even slightly oxidized. The rest of his wines are under DIAM, but he still felt he had to try screwcap because so many of his customers assumed its a superior closure.

This brings me to my final issue, and thats the attitude of consumers and the retailers. Like I mentioned above, many think screwcapped wines are bulletproof and with the grocers dominating the market they are storing their wines in a fashion that in the past would be seen as destructive and downright abusive to their bottles. You mention that screwcapped wines shouldnt have oxidation problems, but Ive seen first hand a bottle that had been sitting on a retailers shelf for five years, and the fill level had dropped from the top of the capsule to 3cm below it - thats about 7cm! Wines will be purchased in completely buggered condition and the uninformed consumer and retailer will assume it cant be defective because its under screwcap, and thats wrong.

I think that with enough time and practice screwcap will eventually be a superior closure, but like you Ric at this point the Jury is still out. DIAM has potential but still needs time to be proven long term - I hadnt heard of the story of them breaking down before which is a big worry. Ive experienced too many failures with natural cork of various types to have much patience left - the quality thats been supplied here has been too diabolical for too long, and its their own fault if they lose out in the long run. Its good to hear some individual Spanish producers are serious about supplying us a quality product here, but theres also the question about how long this will last too - believe it or not there are some well regarded old world producers getting crappy corks too, and I cant help feeling eventually we will be shafted again.

Cheers,
Ian

TORB Responds

Hi Ian, Thanks for throwing in those experiences. The more info the only one winemaker and has no scientific validation.

Re the screwcap failures you mentioned. The operative word is that screwcaps "should" be OK now and not fail.


From: Matthew Moate

12/19/2007 01:30:39 Well done Ric. A great little thought provoking article. One topic that I'd like to see further updates on in the years to come. Keep up the good work.

From: Martin Edwards

01/25/2008 00:44:05 Hi Ric,

I'm amazed that it has taken Oz winemakers so long to work out that they have ALWAYS got the crappy corks...I have been saying for 10 years that the Portugese are ovbviously going to send the rubbish to Oz rather than France which is ten minutes up the road!...Vanya Cullen said it publicly 8 years ago and nothing has changed.

Why do you think Oz always reported 8% cork taint and France only 3%?!...It's not rocket science.

Cheers,
MartinE


Copyright © Ric Einstein 2007

 

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