Screwcaps, say the purists, don’t let wine age. Harry Peterson-Nedry has a PowerPoint presentation that says otherwise. And who says Microsoft products are useless?
Peterson-Nedry is the co-owner and long-time winemaker at Oregon’s Chehalem Wines, where screwcaps have been used to close pinot noir, chardonnay, and its other varietals since the end of the last century. As such, Peterson-Nedry, a former chemist, has tracked more than 15 years of wine, complete with data, charts, and graphs. Or, as one of the slides last week mentioned: “absorbents at 420 nanometers.” In other words, a rigorous, scientific look at how well Chehalem’s wines aged under screwcaps.
Because the customers always have wine questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular wine advice feature. Ask me a wine-related question by clicking here.
Jeff: I agree with you about restaurant wine prices. Even though I want wine with my meal, I rarely order it when I eat out. First, the cost of a glass of wine in a restaurant is two-thirds of the price of a bottle in a store. Second, with few exceptions, wine lists offer very little, if any, local wine, and the wines they do offer are unimaginative grocery store wines. Why don’t restaurants listen to consumers, or their consultants? The consultants tell them this, don’t they? Frustrated in Texas
Dear Frustrated: Ironically, I had a similar conversation with an executive at a major U.S. wine company the other day. You’d think, he said, since almost every restaurant that lowers prices sells more wine, that everyone would lower prices. Instead, he said, restaurants seem to be focused on revenue, where they don’t care if they sell less wine because they think higher prices will make up the difference in sales. This approach didn’t make much sense to either of us, but what do we know?
Dear Curmudgeon: With all the screwcaps and synthetic corks these days, is it still necessary to store wine with the neck tilting down? And is there a period of time where traditionally corked wine can be stored standing up? A standup wine drinker
Dear Standup: Wines with cork closures are stored on their sides to prevent the cork from drying out. Since a screwcap or synthetic won’t dry out, you can store it anyway you want (as long as you keep the wine away from light, heat, and vibrations). Having said that, and to answer the second part of your question, most wine can be stored standing up, regardless of closure, since you’re probably going to drink it long before it matters how it was stored. One of my favorite wine statistics: as much as 90 percent of the wine that is bought is consumed with 24 hours, making storage irrelevant.
Hey Curmudge: Enlightened wine drinkers know that white wines are at their best when poured at a few degrees above refrigerator temp. Ergo, shouldn ?t the same apply to sparkling wines and Champagnes? So when people get the juice as cold as possible and then make an effort to keep things that way by shuttling the opened bottle back and forth to fridge or ice bucket, is that not counterproductive? Love those bubbles
Dear Bubbles: You asked something I have never thought about, figuring white wine was white wine. However, most of the sources I consulted said bubbly should be a little cooler than non-sparkling white wine — mid-40s F vs. low- to mid-50s F. No one quite knew why (I’m assuming it has something to do with the bubbles), but this gives me an opportunity for a class project in the fall when I teach at El Centro. We can do a temperature tasting.
? Bring on the screwcaps: Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist offers one of the best analyses of the state of the wine closures, noting that the number of wineries that used corks, synthetic corks, and screwcaps isn’t as important as the size of the winieres. This is something that the cork people ignore in their quest to convince us that 19th century technology is still relevant. In other words, the next time you see something from a cork producer talking about how many wineries use natural cork, know that about half the wine in the U.S. has a synthetic cork. The post also includes this great quote from Australian wine guru Hugh Johnson: “I am faintly irritated now when I come to open a bottle of wine and find I need a corkscrew. ? Who knew a wine guru would sound like the Wine Curmudgeon?
? Bring on the cava: Shocking news for the wine business, of course, because this is mostly cheap wine, but nothing that those of us who don’t pay attention already know: Cava sales are soaring, up by 4.6 percent last year. By comparison, overall wine sales were mostly flat in 2014. The top cava brand, black bottle Freixenet, is the country’s best-selling imported sparkling brand as well, even beating all those moscatos.
Women winemakers, woefully underrepresented in the male-dominated wine business, make the best wine, despite accounting for only about 10 percent of winemakers. That’s the conclusion of a sort of study from Gabriel Froymovich at consultancy Vineyard Financial Associates, who says “I have often lamented the under-representation of women in this business.” This would be huge news and worth its own blog post, save for the methodology, which is why I call it a sort of study. Froymovich equates price with quality, and we know what a swamp that is — and only does so because using scores would be too much work, he says. This not only assumes that higher priced wine is better, which no one has ever demonstrated to be true, but that it doesn’t require skill to make cheap wine. Somehow, I think Jenn Wall at Barefoot would argue that point. Note, too, that the Wine Curmudgeon has advocated for women winemakers for more than a decade, so my problems with the study are not the results, but that better math wasn’t used to get them.
Image courtesy of Wine Anorak, using a Creative Commons license
The Wine Curmudgeon’s long battle for screwcaps has had its ups and downs, and I’ll admit I get discouraged. It’s difficult enough tasting as much bad wine as I do, but when you have to struggle with a cork first? Talk about hitting yourself in the head with a brick and not knowing enough to stop.
The worst part of it is, I ?m burning [wood in a fireplace] not for heat, but for aesthetics. It ?s like, ?Wait, this is actually pretty hypocritical. ? It ?s very similar to the idea of a cork in a wine bottle instead of a screw top.
Thank you, Ryan Matzner of New York City. And a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Vivian Yee of the New York Times, who was savvy enough to recognize a great quote when she heard one. That’s newspapering the way it’s supposed to be done.
Dear Wine Curmudgeon: I was at a dinner party the other night, and someone brought a bottle of wine because they liked the closure, which was some kind of screwcap. Do people really buy wine based on whether it has a screwcap? As opposed to how it tastes, because this wine tasted like gasoline. You’ve got to be kidding
Dear Kidding: I don’t know that anyone has done a study, but anecdotal evidence suggests just that. I recently had lunch with a 20-something woman who makes expensive wine in California, and she said that she will buy a screwcap wine, all things being equal, if she is in the store looking for a bottle for dinner. I have heard that many times, and I do it myself, too.
Dear Jeff: I recently opened a bottle of wine, and the cork was kind of moldy. My husband said we should throw it out, that we would get some kind of disease. I hated to waste it, since it was an expensive bottle, and I am as cheap as you are. We did drink it, but I have been wondering: Was the wine OK to drink? Worried about mold
Dear Worried: You’re safe — mold on a wine cork is a sign the bottle has been stored properly, and is not like mold on bread, which you do want to throw out, regardless of how cheap you are. Typically, moldy corks will only happen to older and more expensive wines that people have been aging, and it’s not a problem with most of the wine we drink.
? Too many grapes? During the wine price panic a couple of years ago, the wise guys kept mumbling that there weren ?t enough wine grapes planted in California, and that, psst, I ?ve got a deal for you if you want to buy some vineyard land. That wasn ?t necessarily the case then, and it ?s probably not today, either. The president of one of the biggest grape grower trade groups says the number of acres in production could be 25 percent higher than the official figures. If true, this would explain why prices never took off, even after the so-called short harvests in 2010 and 2011. And it would also explain why production rebounded so quickly to a record in 2012. And, for those of us who care about wine prices, it also means they aren ?t going up any time soon.
? Do we really need glass? No less than the pre-eminent British wine writer Jancis Robinson asks this question, wondering ?why we need a material as heavy, fragile and resources-hungry as glass for everyday wine, wine that is consumed within months of being bottled. ? Why not juice boxes and pouches? Good questions all, but ones that overlook the role of tradition in the wine business. Screwcaps are not new, and are cheaper and more efficient than corks. But most wine is still closed with corks, and for no other reason than that ?s the way it has always been done.
? Rot those teeth: The Wine Curmudgeon does not drink soft drinks, dating from my days as a young reporter who wrote a story and learned that Coke, Pepsi, and the rest are among the most nutritionally bankrupt foods on the planet. So I was not surprised to see this study, which claims that diet soft drinks rot teeth like cocaine and meth. The story that describes the study doesn ?t go into much detail about how it was conducted, and I ?m curious why only a handful of women were studied, but it does make great reading and something to point out to those who tell me I drink too much wine. And why my teeth are in such good shape.
We've run a variety of videos on the blog featuring unique ways to open a wine bottle. Oddly enough, many of the people in the videos, whether sabering a Champagne bottle, using a pliers to pull out a screw embedded in a cork, or bashing a bottle against a wall, have not been completely sober.
This video, however (courtesy of Household Hacker on YouTube) may be the best yet. For one thing, the guy opening the wine is completely sober. For another, he offers seven alternatives to a cork screw — one of which involves a bicycle pump. Frankly, that makes sabering seem almost irrelevant.