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The Great Debate-Cork vs Screw Cap

Corks or Screwcaps for your wine?

Corks or Screwcaps for your wine?

Two weeks ago I visited CBS12 WPEC for a segment on Cork vs Screw Cap with Suzanne Boyd and Eric Roby. I find it interesting that today my good friend Cynthia from Passaggio wines tweets out a post about cork making a comeback as the wine enclosure of choice. I find the data a tad underwhelming, and I think it remains to be seen the true volume of wineries switching back to cork from screw cap. My segment, below, discusses whether or not cork or screw caps are a better seal, and whether cheaper wines use screw caps. Check it out, and let me know your thoughts or questions.

For those without the time or ability to watch the two minute video, I’ll give you my summary below the video.


I don’t think cork is a better enclosure than a screw top, and neither do some very prominent wineries. Tests have shown that in the short term, meaning 10 years and under, Stelvin screw caps were as good of a seal for wine, if not better than cork. Hogue Cellars did 30 months of studies on cork versus screw cap, and Plump Jack has done similar studies, with both showing aging wine with a screw cap for 10 years fresher fruit while still showing the qualities desirable from aging.   More data needs to be done for long term aging, of course, and technology advances in the Stelvin screw caps will help with that.

As far as whether or not cheaper wines use screw top and not cork, I can settle that quite easily. I could list off the dozens, if not hundreds of wineries of high quality, and often high priced wine that are using screw tops. However, I’ll just refer to Plump Jack who has done several rounds of testing with screw cap, and offers their 2008 Cade Cabernet Sauvignon under screw cap for $72. I haven’t visited Plump Jack since 2008, however their wines have been rated in the 95+ point category by critics in recent vintages. So, if a top tier Napa Cab can be under screw cap, why shouldn’t other wines use screw caps as well?

I find it amusing that Treehugger says the wine snobs are the ones pushing wineries to use cork again. There are millions of bottles of wine produced in France alone. Add Italy, Germany, Chile, Argentina, and the United states, and you’re approaching an absurd number of bottles. And there aren’t enough wine snobs in the world to consume them all. So, can a small minority of people really dictate what enclosures the wine industry uses? I find that hard to fathom.

Additionally, much of the red wine released into the market is consumed in a relatively short time span from it’s release and purchase. This makes the need to store those wines long term unnecessary, leaving little to no difference between the cork or screw cap enclosure. So, can it be the romaticisim of the sound of a cork popping that drives people to want cork enclosures.  Maybe. For me, I’m quite happy with my screw caps.


Drink Ribera Grand Tasting 2011 – Miami

Ribera Del Duero

Ribera Del Duero

It’s difficult to get a taste of a wine region from one, or even two different wines from that area. Luckily, the folks at Drink Ribera are hosting Grand Tastings across the country, giving you an opportunity to taste almost 100 different wines from Ribera Del Duero. I had the opportunity to attend the launch in Miami, and am glad I did.

Focused mainly on the tempranillo grape, the tiny wine region of Ribera del Duero has approximately 120 km2 of vineyards, which could fit 16 times in California’s 1,942 km2 planted area. However, the rich wine making history, going back 2,000 years as evidenced by a recently unearthed mosaic of Baccus, has a lot to offer. Recent history of Ribera del Duero wineries begins in 1848, with the purchase of the land that is now Vega Sicilia winery.

Prior to the start of the Grand Tasting, several of the attendees began with a VIP tasting of Vega Sicilia wines, both the Valbuena as well as the Unico, their premier wine. Before the tasting, we learned about the history of Ribera del Duero, including going through the 1800s and the addition of the French and Bordeaux influence to the area. We discussed the consistent quality of wines from Ribera, independent of location and proximity to the river Duero. We went over recent vintages and their “grading”, such as 2006 being a good vintage, 2007 and 2008 being very good vintages and 2009 being excellent. These grades are a function of weather and growing conditions being such that the grapes show their fullest potential to make excellent wines.

Vega Sicilia Valbeuna

Vega Sicilia Valbeuna

When we got to discussing Vega Sicilia, we learned a lot about their selective nature. They do not bottle all of the juice their grapes produce, sending some to distillation to brandy, rather than destined for quality wine. They feel that vines are at their peak of productivity between 10 and 60 years, and do not use the vines after they reach 60.  The Valbuena wines are from vines between 10 and 35 years old, while the Unico is made from vines between 35 and 60 years. The wines go through malolactic fermentation and then rest for a year in the oak vats. The Valbuena wines are then aged for three and a half years in smaller oak casks, while the Unico are aged seven years.

However, the selective nature of Vega Sicilia goes beyond a prolonged aging process. They carefully monitor the wines, particularly the Unico, before they are released. As an example, the 1970 vintage Unico was released in 1995, after spending 15 years in oak, and 10 additional years in the bottle.  Additionally, there are vintages, many, that have been skipped as the winery did not feel the grapes produced a wine worthy of the Vega Silica name.

Tasting Vega Sicilia Wines

Tasting Vega Sicilia Wines

Tasting the 2005 Vila Sicilia Valbuena, which retails for approximately $150 shows a youthful wine. Made of 80% tempranillo and 20% mostly merlot and a little  cabernet sauvignon, the nose offers leather and meat with fine baking spices. The palate offers ripe but dark fruit, with a long finish of leather and white pepper. By contrast, the 2000 Vila Sicilia Unico, which retails for approximately $350, has a nose that was 100% spice and earth focused, with little fruit. The palate was a fantastic leather and spice with an exceedingly long finish. I likened it to siting in a well appointed leather chair smoking a fine cigar. The Unico is 80% tempranillo and 20% mostly cabernet sauvignon with some merlot as well.

After starting off on a high note, I was excited to taste through as many of the wines from Ribera del Duero as I could. I found some very nice wines from the region, and have quite a few pages of tasting notes which I’ll share in the near future. However, what I took away from the grand tasting was not the notes on the 42 of 100 wines I tasted that day. I don’t need to recount the flavor profile of each wine. What I took away, what I loved about this tasting, was meeting Vicente Penalba from Finca Torremilanos and learning about his family run winery, and tasting the passion in each glass. In a future article, I’ll discuss the wines I tasted, but also the passion and excitement with which Vicente discussed them with me.  It was his passion that made me excited about Ribera del Duero wines.

Is this wine refrigerator for you

New Air 12 bottle wine fridge

New Air 12 bottle wine fridge

When the good folks at Air and Water Inc asked me to review a wine refrigerator, I was very hesitant. I wanted to be sure that if I was not crazy about the unit, I could pass on the review. Instead, they were so confident that I’d be satisfied with the 12 bottle wine refrigerator they sent me, they told me to simply write honestly, regardless of my opinion. I admired that, and agreed, especially since I have friends asking me to recommend wine storage units all the time. This compact unit fit on my kitchen counter, which is a huge feat in a tiny house from 1940. The video below gives you nearly everything you need to know about the wine refrigerator and if it’s the right unit for you.

This unit may not be not the cheapest 12 bottle wine cooler you’ll find online, though that should NOT be your main criteria for buying a unit like this. The wine refrigerator I reviewed costs $159.99 from Air and Water, with a $30 price break right now making it $129.99. Additionally, using the code GOODTIME will help you save 10% if you decide to purchase the unit. The $30 price break has been online for about three weeks now, and an email from their marketing department stated the price for the unit is $129.99. As always, buyer beware, so check the price before you order.  I also checked the Better Business Bureau, and they are a BBB A rated company, and have been in business since 2001.

I liked the look of the unit, black with a stainless steel front. The temperature controls are simple enough, with an up and down button and a digital readout. I can’t vouch for their construction, and whether or not they’ll be able to go the distance. However, I recommend setting the unit at 55 degrees and leaving the controls alone.  Using multiple thermometers, I concluded that the temperature outside read 55 degrees while inside it read 51 degrees. Being a few degrees off won’t be detrimental to your wine, as this cooler is really meant for storing wine for serving, not long term storage. There was little to no vibration, and the fan was relatively quiet. Perhaps a little louder than a computer fan.

If you’re looking for a wine refrigerator, this may work for you. Again, I wouldn’t recommend it for long term storage for a variety of reasons. First, there’s no way to control the humidity, which is important for long term wine storage. Additionally, for long term storage I would want to be sure the temperature was at a constant 55 degrees with little to no chance for fluctuation. As the video noted, there was a quite a variation in temperature during my demonstration.  However, if you are looking to keep wine on hand, whether to get and keep it it at serving temperature for a party, or to always have a bottle ready to go when company pops over, then a wine refrigerator like this is perfect.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to ask them below. I’m quick to reply to comments, and appreciate them greatly. I threw out a lot of concepts at the end of this post, including temperature, vibration, long term storage. I’ll have to follow up, soon, with why those matter to your wine.

Wine 101 – Introduction to Gamay

Gamay Grapes

Gamay Grapes

The Gamay grape has a history dating back to approximately 1360, and it is thought to have first appeared in the Village of Gamay, it’s namesake. It’s nearly synonymous with Beaujolais, the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in which it is most abundantly produced. What does all that mean? Well, The short two minute video here tries to explain a little bit about the grape, the styles of wine you can expect from Gamay grapes, and the main geography it is produced in.

There are several regions, or appellations, of Beaujolais, and each produces a different style and quality of wine made from Gamay grapes. The Beaujolais AOC is considered the first quality tier, and is likely what you think of when you have Beaujolais Nouveau each November. Beaujolais wines are meant to drink soon after bottling, and are typically fruit forward and easy drinking. They also, perhaps, have a bad reputation of being too simple and barely a step up from sweetened fruit juice. While masterful marketing in the 1980s has made Beaujolais Nouveau a wine people anticipate each year, it has also perhaps hurt the reputation of a grape that could produce great wines.

The next step up in quality is Beaujolais-Villages (Vill-ah-zche). While the wines produced here are also meant to be consumed young, like Beaujolais, they typically have lower yields, or smaller crops, which in turn produce more intense grapes and a smaller amount of more intense wines. There is not, typically, a tremendous price difference between wines from Beaujolais vineyards versus Beaujolais-Villages, and trying wines from each area will help understand the differences and similarities.

Finally, there are the ten Cru Beaujolais regions, each with it’s own characteristics that are imparted upon the wine, and can be broken into three categories. The Cru’s that make the lightest style of wine includes Brouilly, the largest Cru, Regnie, which was upgraded from a Beajolais-Villages are in 1988, and Chiroubles. The Cru Beaujolais producing medium bodied wine, which some experts recommend at least a year of bottle aging before approaching, include Cote de Brouilly, Fleuire, and Saint-Amour. Finally, the four Cru’s that typically produce the fullest bodied wines are Chenas, Juliénas, Morgon, and Moulin-a-Vent.It’s difficult to summarize each of the Cru’s, so I’ll expand on them in future posts.

Now you have an opportunity to add your thoughts! While I mentioned cheeses like Munster, Emmental, and Brie, as well as chicken or turkey, I barely covered foods that pair well with Gamay, or Beaujolais. What are some of your favorite food and Gamay wine pairings? After watching the video and reading the post, leave a comment below. I’m curious your take on Gamay, Beaujolais, and related topics.

A Bit About Torrontes – A White Wine From Argentina

Information about Torrontes white wines

Bunch of Torrontes grapes

Torrontes is a crisp white wine, produced almost exclusively in Argentina. Typically, the bouquet of a Torrontes wine will be aromatic, showing floral notes, often with citrus characteristics. The palate is crisp, ranging in body from light to medium, and is considered to be high in acidity. Citrus and floral characteristics will translate to the palate, though the citrus is not as prominent as say, a Sauvignon Blanc. As with any wine, the bouquet and palate, or scent and taste,  will be different depending on where it is produced, how it is fermented, and how it is aged.  Torrontes wines are meant to be drank young, and are not typically purchased to age. Torrontes is said to be the signature white wine from Argentina. It pairs nicely with seafood, cheeses, Mexican food, Thai food, and chicken.

It’s not known how Torrontes arrived in Argentina, or how long ago. Once thought to be native to Argentina, there is a bit of speculation where the grape originated. Citations on Wikipedia state “the Torrontes grape has been recently linked, genetically, to the Malvasian grapes, which originates in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is speculated to have come from Spain, perhaps by missionaries”.  However, torrontes genetic profiling done in 2003 links it to Muscat of Alexandria, which originated in North Africa,and Criolla chica, or the Mission grape.  While I find it fascinating that the origin of the grape can not be nailed down, and the debate ranges in writings by many wine geeks, I think I’ll instead pop a cork, or unscrew a top, and tell you a little about the wines from first  hand experience.

Speaking of first hand experience, have you had a Torrontes recently? Or ever? If so, let me know what you had, and what you thought of it! Where did it come from, and would you recommend it to others?

Some information about the Syrah grape

Shiraz Grapes

Shiraz Grapes

You may have read some of my recent articles and thought they were amazingly interesting, save one little thing. I have gone into great detail on what the wine taste like, where it came from, and how it was fermented, but I didn’t explain the grape itself. For all you knew I was talking about pickles from Mongolia turned into wine. Therefore, I’ll give you some basic information about the grapes in the wines I talk about, starting with Syrah.

A dark, almost black grape, with a thick skin, Syrah creates a wine that offers many expressions. It’s a grape that takes on the characteristics of the terroir, the earth that the grapes come from, and will be different depending on where it is grown. While more than half of the world’s Syrah vineyards are in France, the grape can be found in “new world” areas such as California, Washington, South Africa, and Australia.

Called Shiraz in Australia, the wine will typically have dark fruit flavors with an intense, peppery component when grown there. In contrast, Syrah you’ll find in California often can be round and fruit focused to jammy. French Syrah, used to make many Rhone wines from appellations such as Cote Rotie (pronounced Coat Row-tee) , Hermitage , and Chateauneuf de Pape, is often considered intense or strong when young, with great potential to age. These are of course generalizations, and the wine can have a very “old world” style while made in California, for example.

Syrah is a great food wine, and is definitely at home around a backyard BBQ. Paired with grilled meats, whether steaks, hamburger, sausage, or lamb, a nice Syrah from Washington will work well. Syrah (or Shiraz) can work well with other foods, such as pizza, game such as venison, boar, or pheasant, cheeses such as cheddar, aged Gouda, or Roquefort, and even duck or chicken if it’s grilled or barbecued.

Please feel free to add some comments below about Syrah or Shiraz!

Wine Aerators and Decanters

Eisch Cooling Decanter

Eisch Cooling Decanter

One question that I’m asked quite frequently is “Do you need to decant all red wines.” I’m sure you’ve been told by your English teachers that “All” and “Never” are bad, bad words. There are, however,  several reasons to decant wines. First, as wines age, sediment will settle in the bottle as part of the natural process. Decanting gives you the opportunity to pour the wine carefully, leaving the sediment in the decanter while the wine makes it to your glass.  Another reason to decant wines is to allow air to mix with younger wines, opening them up and bringing out the bouquet and palate.