Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

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Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Neil Courtney » Mon Oct 02, 2006 7:59 pm

Tyson Stelzer wrote:I have a proposal for the wine question of the decade: Would Latour mature as well under screwcap as it does under cork?

The rise of the screwcap in recent years has brought with it an avalanche of questions. The manner in which wine bottles are sealed has been queried, with implications reaching the way in which wines are made and the way that they mature in bottle. The debate has challenged the most fundamental principles of winemaking and maturation, revealing that our understanding of the scientific processes by which wine ages has not been as well founded as we might have once believed.

In response, wine scientists the world over have initiated scientific studies to investigate the process of maturation during bottle aging. These trials are necessarily long term, so most of the results are still some years from release.

Major screwcap trials have been conducted by first-growth Bordeaux houses for years--but under strict secrecy, with no results revealed as yet.


* Even after more than 30 years of rigorous scientific testing, many winemakers and consumers are still unconvinced that red wines can age under screwcap.

* According to trials in Australia and France, wines under screwcap remain sound indefinitely, and even those deemed not age-worthy can improve in the bottle.

* Lack of oxygen in screwcapped bottles prevents oxidation, not aging.


See the full story here.
Cheers,
Neil Courtney

'Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it.' --- Anonymous.
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Michael Pronay » Fri Oct 06, 2006 12:33 pm

Thanks, Sue, very appreciated!
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Oct 06, 2006 12:50 pm

Tyson Stelzer appears to be a stand up guy, Neil, and I've been impressed with his books and articles. But, in fairness, it bears mentioning his close connection with the screwtop industry -- he even wrote an important manual on how to apply the caps. See his biography here.

A couple of key paragraphs from the bio:

His groundbreaking book Screwed for good? The case for screw caps on red wines attracted significant attention worldwide after its launch in 2003. Within a year of publication, the edition was already in its third printing, and selling in more than twenty countries. In reviewing the book, The Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman concluded, “If screw caps win the day worldwide, Stelzer’s book will have chronicled a turning point. And I will be standing in my cellar, applauding.” Divine Magazine reported that the book represented “the first time that all the contentious issues have been laid out for all to see.” Read more reviews here.

In 2003 he was approached by the New Zealand Screw Cap Initiative in conjunction with The Australian Closure Fund to author a winemaking manual relating to the use of screw caps. Over the subsequent year and a half he worked closely with Jeffrey Grosset, Michael Brajkovich and John Forrest, who served as contributing editors for the project. The finished result is a culmination of the knowledge of these individuals and scores of other industry experts across Australia, New Zealand and the world. More detail here.


Also, for the record, I don't agree with Steiman about much, but I would love to be in my cellar some day applauding as well. (Although in my case, given the pace of change in this area, I'd probably have to get their via a wheelchair or with great luck a walker). :-)

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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Oliver McCrum » Fri Oct 06, 2006 2:36 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Tyson Stelzer appears to be a stand up guy, Neil, and I've been impressed with his books and articles. But, in fairness, it bears mentioning his close connection with the screwtop industry -- he even wrote an important manual on how to apply the caps.


Bob,

I see no evidence that he has taken money from the screwcap manufacturers, or anything else that casts doubt on his opinions about screwcaps. But perhaps that wasn't what you meant?
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Oct 06, 2006 3:22 pm

Seltzer did work closely with the New Zealand Screw Cap Initiative and The Australian Closure Fund in preparing his book. Neither group has ever hid the fact that they funded the book, and I assume that Seltzer was paid for his work on the book. See the long discussion about both groups and the funding of the book at
this wine business site.

The New Zealand Screw Cap Initiative is very clear on its purpose: Our mission is not to sell more screwcaps, that’s someone else’s job. Our mission is to ensure that consumers drink our wines in the best possible conditions, exactly how the winemakers intended them to be. Screwcaps have been offering us that possibility for athe past 30 years, it is now time to explain our decision to combat the reticence”. Seltzer speaks at Symposia put on by the Initiative; it is clear that he has ties to those that believe in using screwcaps. [Bless him!]

It's always better to know where an author is coming from on an issue like this. If John McPhee, for example, wrote the words that Neil quoted, there would be no reason to believe they weren't McPhee's independent findings.

Seltzer has a very good reputation, he does describe his relationship with the screw cap industry and winemakers who embrace the use of these closure. I think he is right to do so -- some people may reject anything he writes on the closure because of those relationships.

It's up to each of us to decide how much weight to put on his opinions and his choices of facts. I put great weight on them, frankly, but only after learning more about the New Zealand Screw Cap Iniative in particular and to a lesser extent, the Australian group.

I'm cheering them all on, Oliver. Just trying to be an informed consumer of wine information. :-)

Regards, Bob
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Sue Courtney » Fri Oct 06, 2006 3:46 pm

Michael Pronay wrote:Thanks, Sue, very appreciated!

Hi Michael,
I hope you don't think I would look like that bearded man in the picture of the starting thread. The thumbs up should actually go to Neil, who found the piece of writing without any help from me.
Cheers,
Sue
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Oliver McCrum » Fri Oct 06, 2006 3:47 pm

Bob,

But surely both of those groups are primarily made up of wineries who want to get the word out about their decision to stop using cork, not PR vehicles for Stelvin et al. There is nothing even slightly inappropriate about Stelzer's association with those groups if he believes (as he clearly does) that screwcaps are the way forward for the wine industry.

Anyway, this is all ad hominem, and doesn't effect his argument.
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Michael Pronay » Fri Oct 06, 2006 4:06 pm

Ooops — sorry Sue! :oops:
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Oct 06, 2006 4:51 pm

There is nothing inappropriate at all, Oliver. But Stelzer sure looks like he's flogging wines under screw cap to me; as you know, I'm already sold. His last point takes on the romance issue head on:


20. Screw caps are romantic, because they maintain the quality of the wine and of the moment.


His other 19 aren't bad either:


WHY CHOOSE SCREW CAPS? By Tyson Stelzer

1. Screw caps remove the risk of cork taint

2. Screw caps remove the threat of sporadic oxidation

3. Screw caps avoid flavour modification

4. Screw caps eliminate flavour scalping

5. Screw caps allow the proper ageing of white wines

6. Screw caps allow the proper ageing of red wines

7. Screw caps eliminate the ingress of oxygen which deteriorates the wine

8. Screw caps maintain a reliable seal long-term

9. Screw caps facilitate vertical storage

10. Screw caps provide greater resistance to temperature change

11. Screw caps are not affected by humidity

12. Screw caps are resistant to odours in the cellar

13. Screw caps are not vulnerable to insects in the cellar

14. Old bottles do not need to be recapped

15. Wines can be cellared for longer periods

16. Screw caps are easy to open

17. Screw caps are easily resealed

18. Screw caps are cost-effective

19. Screw caps can be recycled


http://www.screwcap.co.nz/grids/index_g ... 220&area=4

Some of his points apply to consumers; some of them -- number 18 for example -- apply more to winemakers.

Some are kind of baffling: "14. Old bottles do not need to be recapped."

But all of them can be used to sell screwcaps.

That's why it's important to understand all of his possible motivations, and then decide on the merits if what he is saying makes sense.

The ad hominem arguments still carry great weight, frankly. I admire the fact that he has been very open about his association with these two groups -- it increases his credibility in my mind.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Ian Sutton » Fri Oct 06, 2006 5:03 pm

Much as I'm nearer the screwcap camp than the cork camp (shame about my cellar mix being very much the opposite), some of those (especially the early ones, are not strictly true, as yet unproven, or still open to debate.

One of the sad parts of the closure debate, has been the entrenched views of the protagonists, which at times seems to have got in the way of scientific research or at least it's interpretation. I personally like Tyson's writing (his DIY cellar book is a good read as well). I just don't expect him to be unbiased and see him as a campaigner more than a researcher. I'm not saying this is bad as he fights a fair and decent fight on the subject.

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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Ian Sutton » Fri Oct 06, 2006 5:06 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Some are kind of baffling: "14. Old bottles do not need to be recapped."

Regards, Bob

Bob
I think this refers to the recorking and reconditioning clinics that open old bottles, taste & top up, replacing with a new cork. Penfolds certainly have a big program.
regards
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Hoke » Fri Oct 06, 2006 5:14 pm

Bob: Thanks for posting that list. Good tight clarification of why screwcaps should be considered for closures.

But you questioned a couple of the points.

Some of his points apply to consumers; some of them -- number 18 for example -- apply more to winemakers.

Some are kind of baffling: "14. Old bottles do not need to be recapped."


Point 18 might primarily apply to winemakers/producers, sure, but good cost control doesn't just keep costs in control (although that's a good thing, because lower production costs might generate lower sales prices to a smart company). Good cost control also signals a company pays attention to quality control as well. I will repeat what I've said before: it's not simply a bad bottle of wine every now and then that we're dealing with at a winery using cork. It's the incredible man hours involved in QC on the cork issue. At one of my company's wineries, the QC person tests and rejects 60% of the cork submitted. 60%! And we still have an estimated 2% taint rate. And Toyota and other companies have established beyond anyone's argument that any any business that is not constantly focused on improvement...in every aspect at every moment...is a poorly run company.

The other point is not terribly baffling either...if you consider that such properties as Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Latour Pauillac arrange world tours every so many years offering to pull the old corks out of owner's bottles, topping with wine from the chateau cellars, and recorking with new corks. Because even the great Chateaux will tell you that corks have a finite life cycle and do deteriorate at certain ages.

With screwcaps that weakness has not evidenced itself.
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Oliver McCrum » Fri Oct 06, 2006 5:16 pm

I think Stelzer believes in screwcaps, and because he believes in them he writes from that viewpoint. This would only be a problem if it led him to error or dishonesty. He makes no bones about his views, and he supports them with information.

I find Jamie Goode's argument against some uses of screwcaps somewhat confusing; as Randall Grahm points out, there have always been some reductive wines made, it's a result of winemaking decisions; and there are different kinds of cap liners that can give different oxygen transmissions, which presumably means any desirable amount of oxygen transmission can be precisely permitted, which is of course not possible with cork.

At any rate, name me another consumer good that allows a 5% failure rate SOLELY BECAUSE OF THE PACKAGING. It's shameful, and very odd.
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Thomas » Fri Oct 06, 2006 5:36 pm

Oliver McCrum wrote:
At any rate, name me another consumer good that allows a 5% failure rate SOLELY BECAUSE OF THE PACKAGING. It's shameful, and very odd.


Well Oliver, I must throw away at least 5% of things that come in hermetically sealed plastic. I usually have to throw them away because by the time I do get the package open, I have seriously damaged the goods inside with my raging rips at the package with a knife or scissors plus the smash they make when they hit the wall at which I end up throwing them. ;)
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Hoke » Fri Oct 06, 2006 5:52 pm

Much as I'm nearer the screwcap camp than the cork camp (shame about my cellar mix being very much the opposite), some of those (especially the early ones, are not strictly true, as yet unproven, or still open to debate.


Ian: Not quarrelling, mind you (don't want to be seen as a campaigner :) ), but I'm going to request you be a bit more specific regarding that comment.

Which of "especially the early ones" are you referring to as not strictly true, as yet unproven or still open to debate.

Actually, all of this is still open to debate, and can still benefit from some additional scientifically based testing by disinterested people, but I'd still like to know exactly what you mean by your comments.
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Dave Erickson » Fri Oct 06, 2006 5:53 pm

Oliver McCrum wrote:
At any rate, name me another consumer good that allows a 5% failure rate SOLELY BECAUSE OF THE PACKAGING. It's shameful, and very odd.


That's it. All other argument pale before this one.

(And I hope that's the last time I post on a thread about corks. I am personally sick to death of the topic. As far as I'm concerned, the only issues remaining with screwcaps have to do with implementation. For Stelvins to work properly, they need bottles with properly configured necks of very consistent dimensions. As the closures become more accepted, more bottles will be made to accept the Stelvin closure. This is already happening. Because Stelvin closures are true moisture/vapor barriers, the expense of humidifying cellars will be eventually eliminated. Similarly, screwcapped bottles can be stored upright. I bet most wine consumers have little idea of the complications that arise from storing wine bottles upside down. You haven't lived until you've seen a case set down wrong-end to on a slanted conveyor belt. Oh please somebody shoot me I'm starting to babble about screwcaps again... :D )
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Hoke » Fri Oct 06, 2006 6:00 pm

Dave:

It's okay, man. Calm down.


Go home, snap open a bottle of Gruner Veltliner or Riesling or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Revel in the purity of flavor, the absence of cork taint, the ease of opening. Rejoice that finally, at long last and long, long after it should have happened, corks are on the downslope and screwcap closures are making terrific strides.

Enjoy the dwindling stash of questionable cork-finished bottles lurking in your cellar. Even when you open one of those foully cork damaged wines, and mourn the loss of another casualty of cork, you can celebrate the fact that there will be fewer and fewer and fewer of those occasion in your future.

:D
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Sam Platt » Fri Oct 06, 2006 6:02 pm

Oliver McCrum wrote:At any rate, name me another consumer good that allows a 5% failure rate SOLELY BECAUSE OF THE PACKAGING. It's shameful, and very odd.


Particularly when there is a well proven and cost effective alternative. For any wine other than age worthy "Grand Vin" class bottlings screw caps should be mandated. I'm not conceding the aging issue, it simply seems that more study is in order.

Thomas, If you have at least one opposable thumb I'm guessing that even you could defeat the hermetic "screw cap" seal. :wink:
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Michael Pronay » Fri Oct 06, 2006 7:06 pm

Hoke wrote:Go home, snap open a bottle of Gruner Veltliner or Riesling or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Revel in the purity of flavor, the absence of cork taint, the ease of opening. Rejoice that finally, at long last and long, long after it should have happened, corks are on the downslope and screwcap closures are making terrific strides.

Excellent idea!

There we are: 2005 Riesling Pichlpoint XLarge trocken, Josef Höllmüller, Joching, Wachau, 13%. In practice this a perfect Smaragd, although it cannot be labelled as such, since the anachronistic rules of Vinea Wachau require bark corks. Beautiful pure, classic riesling fruit, youthful peach and abricot aromas, both on palate and on nose, pure essence of flavor. Scored 89 in a blind tasting three months ago, today I'd rate it 90.
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Michael Pronay » Fri Oct 06, 2006 7:19 pm

Btw, I just realized that Josef Höllmüller bottles 100% of his production under screw-cap, so he doesn't even bottle conventional smaragds anymore.

As to the best of my knowledge he ist the first — and only! — grower in the more than conservative Wachau to do so. Kudos to him!
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Oct 06, 2006 7:22 pm

Michael Pronay wrote: ... the anachronistic rules of Vinea Wachau require bark corks.


Rather than merely dismiss this with the judgment "anachronistic," Michael, it seems to me that one might profit from asking <i>why</i> this is so. Do the Wachau producers object to the rule? If so, what if anything might they do to change it? Can they present a case to Linea Wachau ... or even move, over time, to replace its members with younger, more flexible participants? Or, if the producers aren't complaining, would it be reasonable to ask why not? It seems to me that it would be well worth seeking definitive answers to these questions rather than merely speculating, if that's what you are doing, about the influence of conservative old men.
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Victorwine » Fri Oct 06, 2006 7:39 pm

I think we need to define maturation of a wine:

Maturation and aging cover both bulk storage, as in cooperage, and time in bottle. This is an important time in wine development as the finished wine assumes much of its flavor and aroma complexity, and for red wines, rich color. The key reactions in this development are attributable primarily to changes in the phenolic structure and composition. However, the unpleasant extremes of aging - browning, off flavors, and sediments - also result from phenolic changes. An understanding of the underlying changes is essential to the winemaker in optimizing the beneficial effects of phenols in aging.
Generally, in all winemaking, introduction of oxygen is avoided, and an older wine past its prime is spoken of as “oxidized.” In fact, oxidative processes are key to some phenolic changes, but many other phenolic reactions of wine aging occur anaerobically.


So aging wines involve composition changes, and these changes can occur in both aerobic and anaerobic environments.

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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Michael Pronay » Fri Oct 06, 2006 7:50 pm

Robin,

as much as I appreciate your always very balanced look at everything, may I ask for the benefit of doubt for being much, much nearer to the scene.

The requirement of 49mm bark corks (branded with vintage year) for smaragd wines dates back to 1986. This was when "Honifogl" category for top wines was created. The name was to be changed to Smaragd one year later after some legal problems with a certain Ms Honifogl residing outside Wachau and not even bottling wines under her name.

The requirement of top quality corks was a kind of a quality control element at the time. Don't forget: What Vinea Wachau had in mind at the time were to ban 250ml, 1- and 2-liter crown-capped bottles from the Wachau categories. These were the cheapo symbols 20 years ago. Making a fine bark cork a prerequisite for the top category was absolutely normal.

Today, insisting on bark corks for the top category can only be explained by the three members of the board: Franz Hirtzberger, Toni Bodenstein and Emmerich Knoll. All three are 100% bark cork fanatics (no synthetics here, not even for Steinfeder!), openly admitting the vagaries of bark cork, but not drawing any consequences. Franz Hirtzberger freely admitted his affection to bark cork: "It's like a marriage: you cannot predict whether the relationship finally will come out bad, average or excellent."

I stand to this citation, for Franz Hirtzberger told it to me in person when I interviewed him some ten years ago for a portrait. He was opening a 20 year old Veltliner which proved to be TCA-tainted.

The "Codex Wachau" the Vinea guys issued a few weeks ago can be summed it up in two words: Nothing new. They simply re-issued everything that was already there, and sold "Nothing has Changed" as good news. A remarkably piece of good PR — but screw-caps remain a no-no, while cultured yeasts are a yes-yes.

Remember: We're not talking about making screwcap compulsory, but simply to allow them. No more, no less. Sorry to get emotional, Robin, but I do call this attitude "anachronistic", and I stand to it. And it won't change as long as these "old men" (F.H. & E.K.; T.B. being younger, but also extremely conservative on this point) govern Vinea Wachau.
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Re: Can red wines live under screwcaps? Tyson Stelzer.

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Oct 06, 2006 9:31 pm

"I just don't expect him to be unbiased and see him as a campaigner more than a researcher. I'm not saying this is bad as he fights a fair and decent fight on the subject."

Exactly, Ian. Well stated. Regards, Bob
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