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Screw Them All!
Ban the cork for better tasting wines...

By Jonathon Alsop
July 30, 2004

As soon as I yanked the cork on this big beautiful bottle of red wine, I smelled it: my nemesis, the corked cork. TCA -- the chemical compound tri-chloro-anisole -- gets into the cork sometime before bottling and finally infects the wine.

So unavailable Brookline Liquor Mart had to build a special rack for them.The result, years later and maybe thousands of miles away, is an unhappy surprise that smells like wet moldy newspaper. There's also the sight of me enraged and jumping up and down like Yosemite Sam.

When you're face to face with a nasty smelling bottle of wine, any other choice you could make -- screw cap, synth-cork, beeswax -- looks better in comparison. Hogue Cellars in Washington state has finally shown what we all have suspected for a long time: screw caps really are better than either "real" cork or synthetic cork.

According to the Hogue study, screw cap closure wines outperformed cork or synthetics over an aging period of four years. Its science, as presented to the 55th annual conference of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture in June, sounds controlled. The final steps -- a panel tasting every six months for two-and-a-half years of 1999 Hogue "Genesis" Merlot and 2000 Hogue "Fruit Forward" (we knew that, by the way) Chardonnay -- is a delicious blend of objectivity and subjectivity, as these things always are.

Be that as it may, a panel of tasters found a couple of interesting things. First, synthetic cork wines tasted consistently oxidized, meaning air had gotten into the wine after corking. In other words, synthetic cork leaks, as does natural cork, but apparently worse.

Second, the panel concluded screw cap wines "maintained fruit" and tasted "less developed and relatively fresh" for both reds and whites, in addition to not being corked by TCA.

Next year, Hogue is planning to bottle 70 percent of its production in screw caps, which is a prime example of having faith in your research.

I love the idea of screw caps. In fact, I think every winery should follow suit. At long last we've tasted too many corked and funny-tasting bottles of wine thanks to a quaint 300-year-old tradition. Eventually, all wines will be sealed with screw caps, except for expensive famous wines we will never afford, and that's good enough.

A Whiter Shade Of Red

2002 Cavallotto "Langhe" (about $15, available from Classic Wine Imports, 617-469-5799)

This quirky, charming Italian white wine is a follow-up to last week's cavalcade of pink wines. It comes from northwest Italy near Barolo and Barbaresco, and is made entirely from pinot nero -- the French call it pinot noir -- a red grape. The vineyards face north and northeast, the least desirable lots so far as sun exposure is concerned, and the red grapes ripen slow and pink. Gentle pressing yields white juice, but this pinot nero bianco (I guess) tastes deep and woodsy and intense with a dense delicious acidity that really brightens up the shadows. Serve with bluefish or other dark meaty seafood.

What Were Once Innovations Are Now Habits

Emile Peynaud's life as an influential wine expert marked the transition from pre-modern to modern winemaking, first in France, and then in the rest of the world.

When he died last week at the age of 92, the French wine world was in disarray while the new world, more attuned to his modern approaches from the beginning, flourished.

Peynaud's realization that a bottle of wine must taste good only once, on the day it's consumed, gave birth to a new generation of flavorful fresh fruit-forward winemaking. He was the first champion of slow, cool, controlled fermentation, and he advocated modern cellar hygiene practices that are now standard.

Peynaud wrote two important books, "Knowing and Making Wine" and "The Taste of Wine."

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