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.