Monday, November 29, 2010

The Vertical Shuffle

Her lips were pursed ever so slightly, anticipating the silk-like liquid that would soon envelop her throat.  A raise of the elbow, with fingers firmly but gently gripping the stem, she swallows.  “I’ve never done this vertically,” she whispers.  I assure her vertical can be just as enjoyable as horizontal.  Her eyes flickered, I can tell which she enjoyed most.  The more recent while lacking in complexity and interest was fresher, more lively apparently that’s what she liked. 
“And…?” I question though I know the answer, “Which performed better?”


Several days earlier I was on my way to work.  The glory of a Vancouver fall was in full swing as small rain drops attempted to extinguish my cigarette.  My mind was scattered as usual; when do I get paid? When I get paid will I have enough to pay rent, eat and drink wine? If not should I cut out food or shelter? What difference does vintage make?  All these thoughts and more ran through my mind, my gait keeping pace with my thoughts.  An idea struck me.  I’d never compared vintages of the same wine.  What difference does vintage make?  I had heard differing opinions; some think vintage is of great importance, others thinks it matters only in certain climates.  I’d never thought to try the same wine twice from different years.

Apparently my thoughts dictate the composure of the universe.  I arrived at work only to find a new vintage of a wine I had bought no less than a week earlier.  It seemed I would be comparing a sauvignon blanc from ’05 and ’08.  The ’05 had performed fairly well a week earlier, it showed nice tropical fruit flavours along side a distinct and pronounced olive character.  Admittedly the olive component was odd, and most (including the producer) would probably agree that it is an undesirable trait, but I liked it, it made the wine interesting.  I had theorized that the oliviness was due to the excessive age of the wine, Sauv Blanc is not generally meant to be drunk 5 or 6 years after the vintage, this is when it starts to develop grey hair and requires the use of dentures.  With the arrival of the ’08 I would have a chance to test my theory.

I invited a lady friend over for an, admittedly small, vertical tasting.  Budget and availability were the only hindrance to the night.  To do a proper tasting, be it vertical or horizontal, there is generally a proper amount of cash that is needed.  If there is no rush years could be spent collecting new vintages of the same wine as it is released.  Waiting as the years go by will save you money and provide for a nice vertical tasting but may take half a decade or more to achieve a modest collection.  That half decade of work will eventually pay off with 5 vintages of the same wine and the opportunity to compare and contrast the merits of each vintage.  Failing extreme patience a little detective work may be required or in my case luck and and ability to feel satisfied with even the most modest of wine tastings.  Horizontal is somewhat easier, a comparison of different wines from the same year(vintage), all that is required is a half competent liquor store.

Two vintages of the same wine is not very vertical, it’s like a staircase with only two steps but I didn’t have time to search out other vintages nor did I have money to spend on more wine.  My lady friend clearly was less impressed with my tasting set up than she was with the wine.  While the ’05 was austere and olive like while maintaining some fruit flavour the ’08 was fresh and lively with almost nothing but fruit.  There was an ever so slight hint of olive to the ’08 which confirmed my suspicion that the ’05 had an extreme olive character because of its age, as the years had worn on the fruit slowly died out and the olives became king. 

It’s hard to say how much of a role vintage plays in creating a wine.  One problem with vertical tasting is that by definition all the wine being tasted will be at different stages of maturation.  Does the olive character come with age or with the particular weather the grapes saw that year?  In this case I’m going to have to argue that the olive character was due to age.  As far as the difference in vintage goes ’05 was, according to the legendary Robert Parker, a better year than ’08 for Chile.  Olive is not really a desirable quality in a sauvignon blanc by most peoples standards and while both had some the ’05 had a hell of a lot more.

If  ’05 was a better year one would assume it would produce a better wine(by traditional standards).  I’m willing to bet if time travel were possible and the ’08 was brought back in time to the year 2007 so both wines could be tasted at the same point in their maturation (2 years off the vintage) they would taste the same or very close to the same.   Chile with its warm consistent climate produces consistent wine.  For my money ’08 and ’05 were equally good.  I stashed a bottle of ’08 away so I could try it in 2013 and compare it to the ’05 I drank in 2010, I’ll let you know the results.


“I prefer the second” she grabbed the bottle with enthusiasm.  She poured me a couple ounces of the ’08, commented on the ‘pathetic’ wine tasting I had arranged, slid what remained of the bottle into her purse and slammed the door on the way out.  The night may not have ended where I would have liked but I was content with my mild buzz and the knowledge I had gained from my first attempt at doing it vertically.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Repeat offender (Cono Sur, Viognier)

Here she comes again.  The Chilean maiden has reared her tasty head once more.  I figured I needed to have a white tonight.  I tend to neglect white, I always think I like red more but when push comes to shove I do enjoy a finely crafted white wine just as much as a red.  I've always believed it's hard to find a truly crappy white, at the very least it is drinkable, but the sword cuts both ways it is equally difficult to find an awe inspiring white.  Unfortunately the wine tonight did not inspire any awe in me, but it was very nice and quite refreshing.  Although I was trying to avoid Chile for a little while a co-worker recommended this wine and my budget just happened to allow for it.

Producer: Cono Sur
Region: Valle de Calchagua, Chile
Grape: Viognier
Vintage: 2009
Price: $11

Notes: Nice wine displaying peach, melon, perfume and hints of green apple on the nose and palate.  I like this wine but there are two draw backs that made me rate it slightly lower than I otherwise would have.  There is a distinct sulphur smell, it's not crazy in your face, and leaving the wine sit for a few minutes before consuming will get rid of it but nonetheless it is there.  The finish also has a sort of asparagus grassy flavour to it, it's subtle and you probably wouldn't notice it unless you were analyzing the wine but it does detract from its appeal.  I would recommend this wine despite it's short comings, it's a good example of a viognier, at a super cheap price.  Trust me it's worth a go. Rating: Nice!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Siesta time! (Las Rocas Garnacha)

I've managed to escape from Chile, yet the language of the country still haunts me.  Tonight I went for a Spanish wine.  I've enjoyed a lot of the Spanish wine I have drank in the past, luckily tonight was no exception.

Producer: San Alejandro, Las Rocas
Region: Calatayud DO, Spain (The DO stands for Denominacion de Origen more on the below)
Grape: Garnacha a.k.a Grenache
Vintage: 2008
Price: $18

Note: Nice wine, medium in all respects: body, tannin, acid.  Aroma kicks ass: raspberry, wet wool, tar, dark chocolate.  Flavour is much more fruity with sour cherry, raspberry, red apple, sauerkraut, pepper, hints of mint, and chocolate.  All in all a respectable wine, if pairing with food go for something with decent acid maybe a tomato sauce pasta.  Las Rocas gets a B falling into the Nice! category.

DO what!?
A DO is a geographic region with set boundaries.  For a wine to put the name of a DO on it's label there are certain rules that must be followed in crafting the wine.  Often there are limits set on crop yield (a high yield means the wine will be diluted and poorer quality), there might be define minimum aging periods, rules concerning which grapes can be grown, basically they make rules to ensure a minimum level quality of wine.  Not all wineries within a DO must follow the regulation, they must do so only if they wish to use the name of the DO on the label of their wine.  Europe is littered with DO's, although the term varies by country, France uses AOC sometimes shortened to AC, Italy DOC and for even higher quality (supposedly) DOCG.

The entire idea was started by France, which happens to house the most famous AOC: Bordeaux.  If you see any of these terms on a bottle of wine it's supposed to be a guarantee of quality, although from my experience this is pure malarkey, but it will tell you a little about the wine.  If you buy a red Bordeaux you can rest assured that you are going to be drinking some sort of Cab Sauv/Merlot blend.  If you buy a red Burgundy you're getting a Pinot Noir if it's a white It's Chardonnay, unless it says Aligote on the label, then it's an Aligote.  The whole thing gets quite confusing to be honest, but a little bit of knowledge about these protected regions can greatly aid you in selecting European wine.

Friday, November 26, 2010

And now for something completely different (Errazuriz Merlot)

Based on my tasting note book it would seem that I have a very strong preference towards Chilean wine.  Over a third (just barely though) of the wine I have bought in the past month has been Chilean.  The next runner up is... nothing!  Almost every other country is represented equally, which if you're wondering is roughly a third (for each country not as a whole or we'd be missing one more third) of the Chilean wines I have bought.  It seems Chile beats every other country by a factor of three.  The only way I can explain this is, well... I love Chilean wine and it is priced so damn well for what it delivers.  So as to not break my streak I present to you...

Producer: Errazuriz Estate
Region: Valle de Curico, Chile!
Grape: Merlot
Vintage: 2008
Price: $15

Notes: The aromas on this wine are awesome, but they overshadow the flavour to a certain degree.  Look for: Blackberry, Dark Plum, Coffee, Leather, Rubber and Tar on the nose.  Complimented by flavours of Blackberry, Dark Chocolate, Coffee, and hints of spices.  Full bodied and well balanced this is a wine to try for sure.  It fits solidly into the B/B+ range I give it a 'Nice!'

Side note: You can get this wine if you live in BC, Ontario, or Quebec.  Maybe other places too!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yay Australia! (Kangarilla Road Chardonnay)

My swill wine streak has finally been broken.  Upon the recommendation of a fellow employee and Aussie by birthright, I picked up a delicious Chardonnay from the Maclaren Vale in Australia.  Honestly I don't know why I even bother buying wine that I have heard nothing about.  It seems buying random wine off the shelves runs a 80% likelihood of it being a sub par wine.  Whenever someone recommends a wine I find it is almost 100% chance of it being a good wine, that is assuming the person knows something about wine.

Producer: Kangarilla Road
Region: McLaren Vale, Australia
Grape: Chardonnay
Vintage: 2007
Price: $17

Notes: The texture of this wine is mind blowing.  It is like drinking a mix of butter and silk, coating the mouth and throat with delicious Melon, Butter and Vegetal flavours with hints of Peach, Vanilla, and Green apple.  This wine delivers interesting flavours and aromas that aren't the exact same as one another.  I really liked it, but if you really love big Chardonnays I would probably avoid it, on the other hand if you don't drink a lot of Chardonnay and you want to try one that isn't over the top this would be a good starting point.  It's not a humongous Chardonnay, but it isn't meek either.  30% of the wine was fermented in new french barriques and the wine delicately displays the flavours of the oak.  My final verdict: A for Awesome well worth the price.

What is a barrique?
I'm glad you should ask.  A barrique is a barrel, a rather small and common barrel as far as wine barrels go.  It holds 225 L or 300 bottles of wine and was first developed in Bordeaux.  Size of an oak barrel has a big impact on the wine.  The larger a barrel the less contact the wine has with the oak meaning less flavour will be imparted.  Another factor  affecting oakyness of a wine is whether it is new or used oak.  New oak lends more flavour to a wine than used oak.  Just because a wine is oak aged does not mean it will have an oaky quality, it all depends on the barrels used.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quails' Gate Pinot Noir

I've had a string of mediocre to bad wine recently.  One of which was a very disappointing Bordeaux, Chateau Roquetaillade La Grange 2005 (the red, not the white), that received 90 points from Wine Spectator and cost me $30, it was decent at best definitely not a 90. I don't want to post a whole bunch of reviews of wine that suck or are near sucking so I dug into my archives and found some wine from the past that I thoroughly enjoyed, here is one of them:

Producer: Quails' Gate
Region: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Grape: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2008
Price: $25

Notes: I expected a lot from this wine and it delivered.  Quails' Gate is probably one of the most highly regarded wineries in the Okanagan, with good reason.  This wine had a lot going on, the nose gave aromas of Cherry, Tobacco, Strawberry and hints of spices.  The palate offered Raspberry, vegetal notes, Strawberry, Liquorish and hints of coconut.  Lightish body with good acid and a medium to long finish.  This wine was thoroughly delightful, I didn't really grade it when I wrote my notes but as far as I can remember it would have been around the A- range and for the price probably the same as it was well worth the $25.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vina Maipo

Producer: Vina Maipo
Region: Central Valley, Chile
Grapes: Carmenere - 85%, Cabernet Sauvignon - 15%
Vintage: 2009
Price: $8

Notes: If you want a cheap wine that doesn't really stack up even against it's peers then look no further.  It's hard to tell what the flavours and aromas are, they are very muted there is some cherry, green pepper.  Low acid, medium tannin, medium body, short finish.  I give this wine a C but for the price a C.

A gripe I have with this wine:
The name of this wine is Vina Maipo, actually it's the producer's name, one way or another it is the most prominent term on the label.  Maipo is a Valley in Chile a valley in which, the label would lead you to believe, the grapes are grown.  However if you look close enough you will find the grapes actually come from the Valle Central.

The Maipo Valley is technically part of the Valle Central but so are three other valleys.  To use a smaller region on a wine label usually indicates better quality.  If a label just says Chile the grapes could be and probably are from all over Chile, and generally such a broad region being named is an indication of an inferior wine. The Valle Central is a step up from just Chile, and Maipo is a step up from Valle Central, generally speaking.

To put the name of a valley in the name of you wine and then source grapes from a much larger region seems pretty dishonest to me.  Not only did I not particularly like this wine, although it didn't actively offend my palate, but I also think their label is dishonest.  I should point out they do have higher end wines that are actually from the Maipo Valley, but if they're not going to get their grapes from the Maipo for every wine they make they shouldn't use the name Vina Maipo for every wine they produce.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Montepulciano D'Abruzzo

Producer: Spenelli
Region: Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Vintage: 2008
Price: $12
Description: This is a simple wine but it is tasty.  Look for blackberry, grassy notes with a little bit of mint mixed in.  It's medium in body, high in acid with a bunch of tannin.  Probably best if paired with food, maybe spaghetti and tomato sauce or something along though lines.  I'll give this wine a B- but B for the price.

A little extra:
If Italy as a wine making country were a person it would have a serious case of ADD.  There are so many different regions and grapes grown here that it is tempting to avoid the country all together.  Knowledge of the country can help a little, but it is still an outrageously confusing country.  Only in the past half century or so did Italy even decide to start exporting good quality wine: the bastards used to keep it all to themselves!  The wine I drank tonight is from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  Montepulciano is the grape, Abruzzo is the place.  Wine from this region is typically pretty good quality and relatively cheap.  This wine didn't dazzle my palate but for the price it was pretty good and easy drinking.  Pick up a bottle from this region next time you happen across one and chances are it will impress.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nice Wine for the Night

Producer: Louis Latour
Wine: Pinot Noir
Region: Cote D'or, Burgundy France
Vintage: 2008
Price: $22
Notes: If you are looking for a nice, easy drinking, fruit forward wine this one is for you.  This light bodied red is well balanced with cherry, raspberry, red apple, red currant, mint and slight vanilla characteristics.  It's not terribly complex but that is part of its charm.  It pairs well with cheeses of the region specifically: Epoisses and Brillant Savarin.  It's not likely you will find either of these cheeses at your local supermarket you may have to go out of your way to find a cheese shop but the labour is well worth it.

Producer: Rodney Strong
Wine: Sauvignon Blanc
Region: Northern Sonoma, California
Vintage: 2009
Price: $20
Notes: Thank you Anna for introducing me to this wine.  This is a well made sauvignon blanc and has everything you would expect.  Delicious pear, green apple, citrus, green bell pepper hints of minerality, and floral notes all shine through.  It's dry with high acid leaving you wanting more with every sip.  A very nice wine at a good price.

Producer: Llama
Wine: Malbec
Region: Mendoza, Argentina
Vintage: 2008
Price: $18
Notes: This is a food wine.  Honestly I didn't like it that much on its own it's flavours are spicy and herbaceous with some fruit.  It's got a lot of everything; acid, tannin, long finish, medium body.  If you want a wine to go with a beef roast, or cured meats or something along those lines this is a good pick.  If you want something to drink without food I wouldn't recommend it.  But trust me with food this wine goes very well!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dry Wine: A Paradox?

I have always thought the use of the word dry to mean a wine that is not sweet was a rather odd choice. Dry can also be used to mean the absence of alcohol: the town has remained dry since prohibition. There is also the inescapable paradox that is born out of calling a liquid dry; not to mention the fact that said liquid has alcohol in it. Why did the person who first coined this word not content his or her self with the word that is used to signify a sugarless Champaign: brut? In brut there is no inherent paradox of connoting a liquid that is not liquid.  But I digress, given that wine is a liquid one would assume that the error of believing a wine to literally be dry should never present itself; this is not the case.
A customer, who was promptly told by the most senior staff member that she knew little of wine and a different staffer would be better suited to answer his questions, was about to present to me the most confounding misunderstanding of a word that I have ever encountered.  The fact that the staffer so quickly wiped her hands of this customer should have been a dead give away that the encounter was going to be problematic: she knows plenty about wine.

The entire meeting betwixt this customer and I could not have been more than a half hour or so.  He was looking for two wines: a white and a red.  He wanted a sweet white and a sweet red. I explained to him that there are very few reds that are actually sweet most are off-dry at best and even that is pretty rare.  He seemed to understand this and seemed to understand what sweet meant; he did not seem to understand that dry was an antonym of sweet.  He told me that it wasn’t too important whether the wine was sweet or not but he didn’t want a dry wine. There are really only two options concerning the matter of sweet and dry: a thing can either be sweet or dry there is no other option. I was unsure of how I could supply this paradoxical fellow with a wine that is both with and without sugar.

I don’t really think much of it when people are unsure of what a wine term means. The wine industry seems to go out of their way to make things confusing for the consuming public: it gives wine that extra bit of pretentious cache. But this man confused a term to a degree that I did not think was even possible. To him dry literally meant dry. Dry wine, he explained, dries out his throat at some point in the middle of the night. Most people would probably call this dehydration due to excessive drinking a.k.a. a hangover.

The only other possible explanation I can think of is that he was confusing the term dry with the feeling one gets from drinking a wine with a lot of tannin; which is actually a dry feeling in ones mouth. But since he was experiencing dryness in the middle of the night I’m going to have to assume he was actually just talking about a hangover. It is curious that the term dry was never appropriated by the drying sensation tannin causes, instead one just says a wine is tannic or high in tannin.

So where could this bizarre use of the term dry have come from?  Well a few minutes of research on google as well as searching through dictionaries and wine books has lead me to the following conclusions: it comes from Latin, or it refers to the drying feeling that is associated with drinking an astringent wine.

From the Latin word siccus we have the word sec in French, secco in Italian and seco in Spanish all of which mean dry in the wine sense (the normal sense too, well at least for French, I don’t know Italian or Spanish so I can’t really speak to that).  All of these countries are among the historic giants of wine production.  Siccus meant: dry, thirsty, sober, temperate.  Now this is pure speculation on my part but it seems possible that the word sec, secco or seco was appropriated for non-sweet wines because the acidity, having no counter-balance of sweetness, would have made the drinker of a wine thirsty for more while at the same time alleviating the drinkers thirst. 

A wine that is sweet balances out the acidity making the acidity less apparent which results in making the wine less mouth watering.  Maybe the word siccus which later came to be sec was actually being used in the sense of both producing and reducing thirst.  Highly acidic drinks tend to quench one’s thirst but also make one want to drink more, think of lemonade on a hot summer day.  This may be stretching the term siccus but maybe it was originally intended to mean a wine that would satisfy and/or produce thirst.  As such we can see why a wine that is high in acid but low in sugar may be called siccus, or sec ect… it both produces and quenches thirst. 

As far as I understand English has as at it’s root, at least partially, some version of French.  From here it seems that English just copied French term for a wine without sugar but with a completely different sounding word that means the exact same thing: dry, which is equivalent to sec in every way.

The other explanation I actually encountered rather than just came up with myself, although someone must have theorized it at one point too so who knows if it has anymore credibility than my theory.  The theory suggests dry was used to describe a wine without sugar because back in the day, when wine making was more crude, wine that was without sugar would have been perceptibly more astringent and this astringent feeling was associated with a dryness of the mouth.  A sweet wine would have relieved this astringency to a certain degree making a wine off-dry or sweet. I suppose this sounds slightly credible but given that sec, secco and seco are all derived from siccus which can mean thirsty this theory sounds less likely. But if this theory is true the customer may have been using the term dry in this sense, in which case he was just using a much older definition of dry then I had realized.

As for the term brut which refers to a dry Champagne there is good reason the no one copied its usage in meaning a sugarless wine.  Dry was used to describe a sugarless wine for hundreds of years before Champagne was even invented.  Presumably the creation of Champagne would have predated any term used to describe Champagne including brut.  Either way the Champagnois must have  realized the paradoxical nature of using the word dry to describe a liquid.  Those Champagnois sure are smart!

Desert picture from:

Champagne picture from:

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Bottle or Four of Deliciousness

Producer: Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo
Wine: Pinot Noir Reserva (the reserva has no legal definition in Argentina and probably means nothing in this case, in Spain and Portugal it has meaning)
Region: Rio Negro, Argentina
Vintage: 2007
Price: $22
Notes: This light bodied red has good acidity and shows characteristics of black cherry, blackberry, leather, smoke and vanilla.  The aroma is particularly striking on this wine while the flavours are much softer an more subtle.  The flavours blend into each other very well making it difficult to pick out specifics.  Very nice wine, goes well by itself but would be really nice with roasted chicken or other light meats.

Producer: Cartagena
Wine: Sauvignon Blanc
Region: San Antonio Valley, Chile
Vintage: 2005
Price: $14
Notes:  This wine is very interesting.  Sauvignon Blanc is usually meant to be drunk young - as in 1-3 years from the vintage, this one was 5 almost 6 years off of the vintage.  Because of its age the usual crispness and green fruit flavours were muted or lacking.  Instead this wine had a distinctive olive character to it it also had some peach and pineapple and melon.  It's dry with medium acidity.  This Cartagena Sauv Blanc is very interesting; I definitely would not recommend it to someone who doesn't like olives.  You might try pairing this with some sort of olive dish: yum!

Producer: Chono
Wine: Syrah
Region: Elqui Valley, Chile
Vintage: 2007
Price: $22
Notes: A very soft and smooth win.  Medium bodied and very fruit forward this wine will please almost any red wine drinker.  The wine is very fruit forward displaying blackberry, raspberry, plum with hints of vanilla and slight pepper.  Eat a nice steak while drinking this wine.

Producer: Max Ferd. Richter
Wine: Riesling Spatlese (means the grapes were nice and ripe) Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Region: Mosel, Germany
Vintage: 2008 (the picture says 2007 cause I had to steal one of the internet and I couldn't find 2008)
Price: $39
Notes: If you have an extra $40 find this wine and buy it. This is an amazing, medium sweet, high acid, medium bodied riesling.  But you say: "Josh I don't like sweet wine" well I guarantee you will like this one!  The acid balances the sugar so it doesn't come off as overly sweet.  Not to mention the wine is quite delicious; it has notes of green tea, green apple, floral, green bell pepper, pear etc... this list could go one!  Buy this wine! and then drink it while eating moderately spicy thai food, or maybe a pork chops and apple sauce.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Screw Caps and the Loss of Romance in a Bottle

Forward: Yes I pretty much posted this exact same thing about 2 weeks ago, but I had this written for a different purpose and it went unused so I figured after putting work into it I might as well post it. I promise to be less redundant in the future.

Working in a liquor store most of the excitement to be had comes in the form of an eclectic set of characters that come to buy, steal or beg for booze. On a good day there may be a few drunks that scream and swear as they begrudgingly leave the store after being denied their fix, a few kids who “forgot my id in the car, just sell this to me and I’ll go grab it for you,” and the occasional customer who is actually interested in the libation they wish to consume.

Sunday has long been known as the day of rest for God, bums, kids and rabble rousers; as such the eclectic set of characters who stroll through the door is seriously reduced. The only form of entertainment to be had on the Sunday shift is correcting the misconceptions of the notoriously restless and misinformed well to do urbanites.

One such urbanite walked into my store on a long and drawn out Sunday shift. She was cute, well dressed and resigned herself to an often believed myth about wine closures. Grabbing for a cheap and terrible bottle of sauvignon blanc (sealed with a cork) I suggest to her much better bottle (sealed with a screw cap) for the same price. She looks dismayed.

“You can always tell it’s a good wine when it’s sealed with a screw cap” she says sarcastically. I am elated, I now have a mission for the evening, I get to challenge someone’s beliefs and with any luck change her view of the world of wine.

“Actually,” I chime in “this is an awesome wine.”  She looks at me quizzically. I explain that the cover sealing up a wine does not dictate quality. If anything the quality of a wine is likely to be better if it is sealed with a screw cap. I can tell she doubts my expertise, the romance of a cork is just too enticing for most, but as with an awkward teenage boy trying to woo his paramour the display of romance may simply be a cover for an inability to deliver.

I walk over to the New Zealand selection of wine. “Take a look at these,” I point to a bottle of pinot noir and then bottle of sauvignon blanc. “New Zealand is famous for four things: sauv blanc, pinot noir, screw caps and sheep.”  Her face lights up. She explains she was on a date a week ago and her date brought her back to his place where he poured her off a few glasses of an “Amazing!” NZ sauv blanc. Her cheeks blush Beaujolais red after revealing that it was a very good night. “Did you happen to check out how the bottle was sealed?”  I ask. She admits she was off powdering her nose when he opened the bottle. It was almost definitely a screw cap closure I tell her. New Zealand has championed the use of screw caps, and with more high quality wine coming from this nation than ever before they have proved to the world there is no reason to sheepishly back away from the screw cap. In the first five years of the 21st century the nation went from having less than 1% of their wine sealed with a screw cap to roughly 70%.

“So if I buy a bottle of wine that uses a screw cap there is actually a better chance of the wine being good. Why don’t the French use them then?  And what makes a screw cap so much better than a cork?”  Her question is more of an accusation than an inquisition. I have to admit to her that a wine’s quality is not actually related to the presence or absence of a screw cap; there is just a slightly higher chance that the wine will not be spoiled when sealed with a screw cap. Cork, being a natural product, makes a nice abode for fungi. This is bad news for a wine. If a wine happens to be sealed with a cork that happens to house a certain type of fungus the wine will turn rancid. This is what wine people are referring to when they say a wine is “corked.” The wine either becomes dull and tasteless or it will actively offend your nose and taste buds. Industry estimates suggest that anywhere from 1%-10% of all bottles sealed with a cork are victim to this terrible disease. Realistically the figure is probably much closer to 1% than 10%. She seems to accept my rebuttal to the first part of her accusatory question. Suddenly a look of horror creeps across her face. I think I may have just scared her into never buying a bottle of wine sealed with a cork again. “What if this happens to the wine I buy!?  Will I die?”  No don’t worry it’s harmless -- it just tastes like wet dog.

As for France and Europe in general, wine has been sealed with cork for hundreds of years: things are slow to change. The old world tends to stick to old traditions, whereas the new world, in which New Zealand is located, seems to feel more free to experiment with new techniques. The French also seem to be inordinately in love with the popping sound a cork makes when removed from the bottle. The leading manufacturer of screw caps is actually in the process of trying to reproduce the popping sound for screw caps to appease French consumers.

While screw caps do eliminate the risk of a wine being corked there are differing opinions as to weather a screw cap has the same ability to age a wine. Cork allows for trace amounts of oxygen to enter a wine bottle: this is necessary for aging a wine. There are now screw caps that effectively do the same thing but since they are relatively new to the market there is some skepticism, people don’t necessarily fully trust screw caps to age wine.

New techniques and technologies are being created to reduce the rate of “corked” wine. There are new treatment techniques for cork that are starting to be employed that completely eliminate the risk of cork taint. But with new technology comes more cost, cost that a winemaker may not always be able to afford. Both cork and screw caps are good methods of sealing wine. While cork may have the draw back of potentially destroying a wine, screw caps are yet to be fully trusted in their ability to age a wine.

“So what you’re saying is I shouldn’t be biased?”  Finally; I managed to gain her trust and convince her that a screw cap is no reason to think a wine will be sub-par. I tell her that if she is debating between buying one of two bottles of wine not to let the sealing method be a deciding factor. She smiles, grabs a bottle of New Zealand sauv blanc and leaves the store screw cap sealed wine and all.