The Life of Wine

 |  August 30, 2010

Dom Perignon (Circa 1638-1715) was the first of the Benedictine Order to experiment with cork as closure for bottles of sparkling wine (later to be known as Champagne). Before then hardwood stoppers were used to seal large open neck vases and casks as a crude method of wine preservation.

For years now the wine industry has been debating over the ultimate closure for wine. The traditional closure, cork which has been in place since the late 17th century comes from the Quercus Suber, or cork tree native to Spain. This oak species tree is widely grown in Portugal and Spain but in the last 200 years the thirst for this malleable, semi-porous wood has well outstripped the supply. The cork trees take approximately 6-9 years before they are ready for harvesting and to satisfy the ever increasing international wine consumption over the past 50 years or so, the use of pesticides and wood preservatives has also had to increase to meet this demand.

Cork is graded according to very specific quality parameters. Generally speaking, the more expensive the bottle of wine, the higher the grade of cork closure used. The less expensive wines use lower grades of cork and so on. No matter what the grade is, there is always a chance of bacterial infection known as TCA (trichloroanisole) or ‘cork taint’. As little as one part per trillion can be detected in the wine making laboratory and the human nose can also detect it in minute amounts. Cork taint smells a little like a musty cellar with the sharpness of chlorine thrown in. If you get through the smell, you will surely be confronted with an unusually high acidity on the palate.

The incidence of corked wine has been recorded as high as 15% in some countries. That’s more than one bottle per 9 litre case of wine. The end result – billions of wine industry dollars down the drain year after year, not to mention the misery stricken faces on those who discover their last bottle of pet wine is tainted.

Come in screw cap. Ok, so not as romantic as pulling the cork but there is nothing wrong with the old twist top. Some say it degrades the wine and that all wines under screw cap are cheaper than those under cork. The acceptance of screw cap is almost worldwide now. Some well known international wine brands have moved their entire bottling lines over to screw cap. Even some of the world’s leading prestige labels are now found solely under screw cap. They figured they can adapt their traditional packaging to fit the closure and sleep at night knowing the replacement rate for their $100 a bottle plonk will be less than 1%. One well known Italian Pinot Grigio brand at the lower price level recently moved their production over from cork to screw cap. Their exports to the UK and Australia doubled overnight with the help of clever marketing and a little consumer education.
Some counties both from an export and domestic consumption point of view would not dream of bottling their wines under anything other than screw cap. Batch trials have been conducted by many producers worldwide. Almost every producer preferred the wines ageing capacity under screw cap. They appeared younger, fresher and there was an extraordinary high level of consistency throughout the bottling process. The industry has gone from producing over 300 million screw caps in 2003 to nearly 3 billion in 2010. The result is conclusive.

Best buys for September
wines under 600 baht.

2009 Duca Castelmonte Cavallina Grillo – Pinot Grigio, Sicily ITALY (screw cap) 40 baht
Wonderfully delicate, soft pear and citrus fruit with loads of flavour and nice cleansing acid. Drink with any seafood or just by itself. Delicious!

2007 Duca Castelmonte Dinari Del Duca Nero D’Avola, Sicily ITALY (cork) 600 baht
Typically Nero D’Avola with its briary berry aroma and taste. Reasonably full bodied, dry and loads of pretty fruit.

2007 Duca Castelmonte Dinari Del Duca Syrah, Sicily ITALY (cork) 600 baht
Fresh black pepper spice on the nose tells you this is Shiraz! A luxuriously smooth palate is coated by blackberry, chocolate and tobacco. This wine over delivers for the price.

All wines can be found at ItalAsia on Chang Klan Road, 053 266 685

October issue – Storing wine – dos and don’ts of building a collection. Best buys – wines to put down for the future, 10 years plus.