Dan's Blog


Friday, June 15, 2018

Since the daring Clare Valley winemakers opted to bottle their wines under screwcap due to the poor quality of cork, there has been a global battle raging between the corksters and the cappers. Here is a bit of an update on things.

I must declare that I have been pro screwcap since 1993 and consider cork to be outdated/superseded – just like the horse & cart was 100-120 years ago by the motor car. Thank heavens! Could you image how shitty our city streets would be if we were still using horses as our main mode of transport?

VOLUME:  Anyhow the first bit of news is that according to European sources, one-third of all the world’s wine is sealed under screwcap (around nine billion units). Up from about 0.00000001% at the start of 2000.

Australia/New Zealand lead with around 85-90% of wines screwcapped, then comes the USA where latest stats show that 45% of all their wine is under screwcap. Not surprisingly the uptake has been slowest in ubber conservative Europe. However, in most European winemaking countries there is a gradual drift towards screwcaps. For example, many of Austria’s excellent wines are now under screwcap, and most of the producers of Rueda bottle their export wines under “rosca” (screwcap) but still bottle for the locals under cork as their customers are so staid and conservative.

SCREW THAT:  They say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. If that is the case, then at least one cork producer is flattering the screwcap as they have come up with a “twist top” cork. It needs a special bottle that has a big wide thread on the inside of the neck and the cork has a matching wide thread on its outside. This closure has been designed to overcome the fact that gradually around the world on premise venues are moving to screwcaps due to their ease of opening and reseal ability. A move being driven by waitresses who at times find it a struggle to open a cork sealed bottle.

UNTAINTED:  The days of 10% cork taint are well and truly behind us due to the tens of millions that the cork manufacturers have spent on improving their product. Not to mention the tens of millions they first spent trying to persuade consumers that there was no problem at all!!!

The best estimates that I have heard is that cork taint is down to the level of 1-2% and that is mainly in the cheaper corks which are usually used to seal inexpensive wine – “vin de table”. So the odds of getting a corked super premium bottle have just about disappeared. However, that is not much of a consolation if you open say a $500-$1,000 bottle of wine and it is in the 1% and tainted. The cork producers who now guarantee that their corks are taint free are actually only guaranteeing that their product has “no taint at a level detectable by humans”.

On the downside for screwcaps is the fact that there is a possibility of getting a bottle with reductive characters. However, when this happens it is the winemakers fault for not getting the chemical balance of their wine right before bottling, rather than any failure on behalf of the screwcap.

The main thing about this “war” is that we the consumers have benefitted significantly. The incidents of spoiled wine has absolutely plummeted since the turn of the century, due to the bitter rivalry between the two sides, forcing each other to make improvements (rather than due to having the consumer’s interests at heart).  Thanks guys! I look forward to opening 15-25 year old wines next decade with the confidence of knowing that if the winemaker did a great job, then the wines will be fantastic and not tainted.

Enjoy your wine whichever way it is sealed. Cheers!


TERROIR IN ACTION:  Many winemakers around the world rant and rave (especially the French) about ‘terroir’ and its impact on the wine. There are also plenty of terroir sceptics who argue that it is a “load of malarkey” and the wine is much more influenced by the various decisions that the winemaker makes than by its terroir.

By the way, terroir is defined as how a particular region’s climate, soils and aspect (terrain) affect the taste of the wine.

Well, this week I had the opportunity to see “Terroir in Action” thanks to the good folks at CRFT WINES, who sent in five Pinot Noir’s all from the Adelaide Hills, all from the same vintage, made by the same winemaker, in the same way: hand-picked, gently destemmed, cold soaked, 25% whole bunch in the open tank-wild ferment, unfiltered, unfined. All matured for 10 months in French oak, with 15% of it being new in each case.

Thus apart from the fact that there was a few days difference in the picking dates (due to hand picking), the only significant variable was the vineyards that the grapes were grown in.

So what was the outcome? Well each and every wine had different characters/nuances while still being Adelaide Hills Pinot. They were the:

CRFT 2016 PINOT NOIR – THE BUDENBERG VINEYARD: Crushed violets, cinnamon and spices on the alluring bouquet. Great flavours and tight tannins that coat the palate, lingers beautifully. A mid-term keeper.

CRFT 2016 PINOT NOIR – THE CHAPEL VINEYARD: Spearmint, red berries and a smidge of nutmeg on the bouquet. Silky smooth on the palate, masses of flavours with soft elegant tannins and great balance. Will keep, but great right now.

CRFT 2016 PINOT NOIR – THE BRODERICK VINEYARD: Aromas of musk and liquorice accompany the red berries on the classy bouquet. On the palate there is lovely ripe cherries, a smidge of plums and a hint of spice. This wine is deeper and bigger bodied. Will evolve superbly over a longer time.

CRFT 2016 PINOT NOIR – THE WHISSON LAKE VINEYARD: Perfumed nose with red berries, almonds and blue berries on the very elegant and alluring bouquet. On the palate this wine is slightly more viscous/oily with just a hint of fruit sweetness and lip-smackingly divine flavours. Rearing to go!

CRFT 2016 PINOT NOIR – THE ARRANMORE VINEYARD: The deepest, densest bouquet of the bunch with earthy gamey characters, gorgeous strawberry flavours, nice and creamy with silky tannins, a superb lingering, moreish finish and excellent balance. An each way bet, drink or cellar? – OH YUM!

The answer is that each of these delightful wines was quite distinctly different from the others with its own set of aromas, flavours and characters, thereby demonstrating to me, “Terroir in Action”.

Have a great week and always enjoy quality wines. Cheers!