Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Attendee Notes Part Two

For specifics of the tasting and explanations of presentation formats, please see the previous post Attendee Notes Part One.
Yalumba Shiraz/Viognier 'Y' Series, South Australia 2006 - The closest vote of the night, no one abstained and comments explained the neck and neck results.  "Very similar," "really pretty even," and "slight preference" for the screwcap.  Another found appeal in both, with a "better nose" on the screwcap and a "better taste" from the cork bottle.  An echo of predilection for the aroma of the screwcapped wine found it "less musty" with "more fruit."
Votes 4-3 in favor of the cork finish.
d'Arenberg d'Arry's Original Shiraz/Grenache, McLaren Vale 2004 - We find more close calls despite a more decisive vote.  "These are also close," and "can't decide," finally leaned to the screwcap.  One found a "slight preference" for the screwcap and another loved the wines but could hardly tell the difference.  One did not enjoy the wine very much at all, expressing, for both, the appearance of an "unfortunate nose."
Votes 5-2 for the screwcap.
Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley 2005 - Everyone pretty much agreed that this was their favorite of the night.  Again, I saw "very close" from two tasters and even an amusing, "[screw] you, they're identical. Delicious though, thanks."  With one abstention, this was hardly a landslide.
Votes 4-2, one abstention, in favor of the screwcap.
Jim Barry Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia 2005 - By this point my family found the exercise a bit overwhelming.  Not so much drinking the wine, but remaining focused and trying to differentiate between the pairs.  Notes became less specific but more amusing.  "Measurably different, but not vast," was the most detailed.  The final one I'll share brought the widest grin, "I'm not smart enough to tell the difference."  This unfortunate sentiment deserves to be addressed again and again, but that's another series of posts.
Votes 6-0, one abstention, for the screwcap.
I will summarize my thoughts in the final post for this fascinating tasting and tease a reprise tasting in New Orleans.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Attendee Notes Part One

As a reminder, wines appeared in pairs and tasters did not know which was which.  I changed the presentation order of cork and screwcap randomly to avoid any trends.  The screwcap was on the right for the first two wines, then on the left for two more.  The final three wines alternated screwcap from right to left and back again.
Members of my family made up the group and they enjoy wine but none are professionals and taste preferences vary widely.
Excelsior Chardonnay, South Africa 2006 - The vote here was nearly unanimous.  One taster preferred the bottle finished with the plastic cork, but I know she used to love apple juice.  "Sauterne-like" was how another described the same wine.  The winning screwcap showed, "more nose, better tang" and was "fruitier and lighter in color."
Votes were 6-1 in favor of the screwcap.
Abel Clement Cotes du Rhone 2005 - Another strong vote, despite one abstainer, who found the tastes "inconclusive."  "Smoother" described the cork while the same taster found the screwcap "more acid/tart."  This taster found the wines exhibited a "similar nose...I liked one then the other."  That vote not withstanding, the rest were fairly strong for the screwcap due to "better body, better aftertaste" and a reaction of "more happening."
Votes 5-1, one abstention, in favor of the screwcap.
Bodegas Castano Monastrell, Yecla, Spain 2006 - Mixed results continued here with another abstention due to lack of preference.  Another admitted the vote was "pretty randomly chosen" while "so far this is the closest," perhaps summed it up best.  The strangeness of this wine nearly split the crowd.  The screwcap wine generated "oddly, a bit juicier," "just flows nicely" and "maybe slightly better in taste."  The plastic cork sealed bottle received "almost better," "great nose" and "a little drier."  One voter for the screwcap found the other had "too much bite on the finish" but a "similar nose."
Votes 4-2, one abstention, in favor of the screwcap.
We'll wrap up the voting in the next post.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cork vs. Screwcap My Notes Part Two

Here are the rest of my tasting notes from the event.  For further explanation see previous two posts.
Yalumba Shiraz/Viognier 'Y' Series, South Australia 2006 - The Hill Smith family has made wine in the area for over 150 years.  Grapes for this wine (92% shiraz and 8% viognier) are co-fermented in the traditional northern Rhone style which results, counter intuitively, in a darker wine.  Viognier also lifts and intensifies the aromatically shy shiraz grapes.
Screwcap came first here and the wine delivered smoky oak and plenty of dark fruit.  It was tasty if a bit less exciting due to the presence of fine, gritty tannins.  The rest of the wines all featured real corks and this bottle was deeper on the nose with more vanilla and red fruits that followed through in the mouth.  However, the finish tailed off too soon and I found more obvious, pronounced tannin here.
d'Arenberg d'Arry's Original Shiraz/Grenache, McLaren Vale 2004 - Made from old vines, some from the 19th Century, and traditionally produced - foot trodden (wearing waders), basket pressed and aged in oak for 18 (or is it 12? - inconsistent information available) months in new and used French and American oaks before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.  For more on McLaren Vale, see earlier Australian education posts, specifically Australian Education Part V .
Real cork helped produce a wine with deep color and a dark nose.  Slight mintiness only appeared on the aroma, for which I was grateful (my flirtation with that flavor profile has soured when it appears in the taste).  The palate was a bit short, even appearing pinched on the finish, like a spigot on full but a hose only letting out a few drips.  Some dirty tannin appeared on the finish but the overall impression of the wine was positive, if not glowing.  The screwcapped bottle exhibited brighter fruit, more red than black and less mint.  Overall the wine was much more solid and harmonious from front to back.
Jim Barry Lodge Hill Shiraz, Clare Valley 2005 - Jim Barry began producing wine in 1959 in the relatively cool Clare Valley, northeast of Barossa.  For more on this region, see Australian Education Part VI.  This property was purchased in 1977 and was planned to be a riesling vineyard, this wine was made from 100% estate-grown shiraz.
Despite my previous dismissal of mint, I liked this wine and it had plenty of it.  I thought the screwcap-finished version was the best of the tasting.  The deep complexity of the wine foretold the structure to come.  Well made, well balanced, the star of the night.  Oddly, sometimes the best wines leave me happy but short on descriptors.  Subtlety marked the cork wine.  It was quiet, reserved and demure the whole way through, simply less showy might have been fine, but it had less happening as well.
Jim Barry Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia 2005 - Mostly from a 30 acre vineyard that used to be a cricket pitch located in southern Coonawara on the Limestone Coast (for more on this area, see Australian Education Part IV).  Some fruit from estate vineyards in the Clare Valley is also used.  100% cabernet sauvignon and aged for 12 months in oak, half French and half American.
Mint dominated the cork bottle, and bordered on being green in that unripe, cool climate cabernet way. The rest of the wine showed great balance with fruit appropriately overriding the tannin.  The screwcap's tougher tannin made it harder to enjoy but the wine was much more complete.  It just needed food to offset some of the tannic bite.
It's all well and good for me to pronounce my preferences but I knew the wines and knew which was which.  How did the blind presentation go?  Read the next two posts for feedback and insight from the other tasters.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cork vs Screwcap My Notes Part One

As a reminder, these wines shared a vintage but differed in closures.  Although my storage has not been ideal, it has been consistent.  While it is possible that differences in bottling time (none of these wines appeared simultaneously in the market) could result in perceptible differences in the glass, I firmly believe those will be minor.
At any rate, as I have not encountered a tasting close to this one in twenty plus years in the business, it provides the best information available to consumers.
This post will share my impressions of the first three wines.  The next will complete my notes and then feedback from the participants and their votes will be revealed.  The tasting occurred on the Friday after Thanksgiving, 2011.
Excelsior Chardonnay, South Africa 2006 - The winery is located in pastoral Robertson, east of Stellenbosch and north of Walker Bay.  The De Wet family has owned the winery since 1870.  Made of 100% chardonnay, it is aged half in stainless steel and half in oak.
I can not stand the plastic cork phenomenon.  The seal is sub-par, in my opinion, yet they are hard to remove and nearly impossible to re-insert.  Any other choice would be an improvement.  The wine behind the the plastic cork smelled appley and was significantly darker in the glass than the screwcapped version.  It was tired on the palate but showed some nuttiness and a bit of lively snap on the back end.  Overall, however, it tasted too much like apple juice.  The other showed focus and life and was simple but clearly fresher and tastier.
Granted, it was unfair to age this inexpensive chardonnay as long as I did but the screwcap obviously kept the wine fresher longer.
Abel Clement Cotes du Rhone 2005 - From northeast of Orange, the wine is mostly grenache and syrah with some cinsault and mourvedre.  This winery offered a real cork, so I was eagerly anticipating this round.
The cork-finished wine displayed bright red fruit, some earth, a hint of pepper and lots of fine tannin.  I found the screwcap offering cleaner, more focused, better balanced and much more fun to drink.  This was an interesting pairing because both worked.  The screwcap won me over though.  I would buy more of those bottles.  The cork tasted okay but would not cause me to purchase more.
Bodegas Castano Monastrell, Yecla, Spain 2006 - Monastrell, better known as mourvedre in France is the signature grape of the D.O. (Denomiacion de Origen - their version of appellation) located in southeast Spain.  The heat is mitigated through altitude.  The vineyards are located at 1,500-2,400 feet and are 30-60 years old at this winery.
This is a weird little wine that does not work for everyone and one I explored in an earlier post about corks and screwcaps Worden on Wine June 2011.  The screwcap came first in this pair and displayed expected earthiness, even pungency, with very pronounced acidity.  It almost seemed frozen in time, preserved at some slightly awkward stage of development.  The fruit, however, was brilliant and red and inviting.  The liquid behind the plastic cork was earthier still, more intense and much more tannic than acidic.  Frankly, neither wine did much for me but they both fascinated as the wine appeared to have evolved very little in either bottle except to become wilder.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cork versus Screwcap Intro

A few years ago I began noticing wines transitioning from cork (real or plastic) to screwcap in the same vintage.  I bought both closures when available and set them aside.  Relocation and place of residence means the wines have not been stored perfectly but they have been stored exactly the same way.
It is possible, indeed perhaps probable, that wineries bottled the two versions at different times leading to some inherent differences before they reached my hands.  However, since no winery has invited me, nor any professional I know, to taste their experiments with closures, this is as close as we mortals can get.
My family gathered for Thanksgiving in North Carolina and we had a big tasting, non-professional opinions being the most important to me.  Seven wines from around the world, one each from South Africa, France, Spain and four from Australia, were opened and tasted blind.  Poured in pairs (one cork, one screwcap) to each participant, seven people, other than myself, tasted the wines.  Since I did not taste blind I did not vote.
After trying, unsuccessfully, for many months to sell this article to various wine magazines it is time to share the results.  The subject deserves exposure and discussion.  Everyone has an opinion about screwcaps but those ardent points of view are often under-informed.
Wineries conduct tastings behind closed doors but do not publish results.  Plumpjack released their cabernet in both versions for a number of years but that is an expensive experiment.  No one showcases wines from around the world with value prices, until now.
Stay tuned for the results and keep watching for an opportunity to join another edition of this tasting in New Orleans.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Poor Cork/Screwcap Article

I found an old copy of Quarterly Review of Wines, Winter 2010/2011 recently.  At the end, an article called Cork Screwed appears, written by Al Vuona, Jr.  He has been published in the magazine before and hosts a show on public radio in Massachusetts.  I can not find a copy online and the publication has since gone out of business but the article is a great place to start a series of cork/screwcap posts.
His opinion is stated clearly at the outset, he is against screw caps.  Fine, no problem.  I take issue with his arguments in support of his position.  
Mr. Vuona states that only a small amount of bottles sealed with corks are tainted.  If we take his number of bottles produced each year (20 billion) and even take the very low end of cork taint percentage we're still left with a staggering number, 200 million by my math.  [Cork taint occurs in approximately 2-5% of wines, a recent study puts it as low as 1% so that's what I used].  He writes this huge volume of sullied wine off as "a bad day."  Using this overly conservative number results in enough bottles over the course of one year to nearly equal the entire production of New Zealand !  I view that as significant.  
He laments the loss of tradition and fears obsolescence for his corkscrew.  Understood.  Cork will never go away entirely, certainly not in our lifetimes.  I like it too, except when it ruins a wine.
The loss of popping corks on New Year's Eve also troubles him.  I'll overlook that opening a sparkling wine properly results in no pop and simply mention never seeing serious sparkling wines sealed with screwcaps.  
So far, these are quibbles of approach and agenda.  However, he crosses the line later.  "They [corks] allow oxygen to interact with the wine thus preventing cork taint."
When published wine writers misinform the public, someone needs to step up and point it out. Loudly.  If his premise had any merit whatsoever, we would never have a corked wine.  A man who purports to know something about wine should know better. Shame on QRW for publishing this obviously inaccurate statement.  Perhaps errors like this contributed to their demise.  
As to which is "better" I'll leave that for another day.  A detailed report on a large cork versus screwcap tasting will be reported here next.