Written and © copyright by Dave McIntyre
December 2004 Holiday Edition - A Writer's Notebook
Two winemakers with contrasting views on screw caps: In this corner, Chris Hatcher, chief winemaker at Wolf Blass, the Australian flagship of the BeringerBlass empire. Hatcher is a strong proponent of the new closure. He argues that the problem with corks extends well beyond the "cork" taint from 2,4,6-trichloranisole (TCA) that affects anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent of wines, depending on whom you trust.
Hatcher believes that as many as 50 percent of wines (!) are negatively affected by bad corks, and that many of these effects are not generally recognized as taint. To illustrate his point, he slices two corks in half: a high-quality cork is dense and compact, while an inferior cork will have holes or blemishes on the inside. These blemishes can impart an unpleasant woodsy smell and flavor to the wine - quite distinct from the moldy character we call "corked."
Screw caps, in Hatcher's view, give the winemaker the highest degree of control over the quality of his or her wine. Why risk half your product on an inferior closure?
In the other corner, defending corks, is David Autrey of Westrey winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley. "The issue of corkiness is overblown, in my opinion," Autrey says. He argues that screw caps are fine for wines meant to be drunk young (which of course is the vast majority of them), but they are still an unknown quantity when it comes to aging wines.
"If you use a screw cap you do not have the natural aging process that you want in a wine," he says. "If you want a big red wine to age, a screw cap is counterproductive."
Do we really know that? The jury is still out, either way you look at it.
Autrey also argues that changing closures won't end the debate over taint. With the recurring problem of TCA infecting wineries, he explains, it won't be long before we taste "corked" wines under screw caps.
How do you spell "Pinot Grigio" in German? Grüner Veltliner. Am I the only one who doesn't get the "thrill" of these tart, acidic, uninteresting wines? Or is it just because I don't buy the $30 ones?
The decline of the dollar is putting the squeeze on importers trying to bring us value-priced wines, as well as winemakers in Europe trying to break into the U.S. market. As a result, there are many small producers of well-crafted vino looking for representation Stateside, even as it is harder to find it.
Recently I attended a tasting in Washington presented by a small group of Tuscan wineries looking for U.S. importers. They were primarily from Lucca in northwest Tuscany, outside Chianti, Bolgheri or the other big-name and big-bucks Tuscan denominazione, though a few wines hailed from Montalcino. Some of them I would like to see on retail shelves if the price can be competitive. (Prices listed here are wholesale prices given by the winery representatives. For more information on these wines, contact Laura McDonald.)
Montrasio "Fruttuoso" 2002 Colline Lucchesi D.O.C. ($13) is 100percent Merlot, and another example of how well this grape does in Italy. International in style with lots of new oak, this shows plummy fruit with a mineral backbone and good tannins. A less-expensive Merlot from this producer was corked.
Montrasio 2003 Rosso delle Colline Lucchesi D.O.C. ($6), a blend of Sangiovese, Cannaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Malvasia Nero and Merlot, is light in color and body (ie., traditional-styled) but loaded with bing cherry and a dusting of cocoa. Quite nice for a bargain red.
La Pescaia 2001 Rosso di Montalcino D.O.C. ($12.20) is textbook Sangiovese - dried cherry, chocolate, with dusty mineral tannins and a lingering finish. For me, this was more interesting than the winery's 1999 Brunello ($26), which was tight and angular.
Here's one Italian gem that has reached the U.S. market: Poggio del Volpi 2002 Cesanese del Piglio from Lazio south of Rome hails from a less trendy and therefore less pricey region than Tuscany. The problem here is name recognition. Cesanese is a grape variety indigenous to the region and acknowledged in most wine books only in passing. Here, blended with 10 percent Barbera and 10 percent Montepulciano, it offers a dense, purple wine redolent with bing cherries, plums and a hint of cocoa. Think of it as a Super Tuscan's peasant cousin. It's a steal at $10 retail, imported by Siema of Springfield, Va.
WineLine is now five years old. In that time it has gained a modest but loyal following, and I thank each of you for your support and your occasional feedback. Most of that feedback has been positive. (With the exception of the hate mail I received for "Code Rosé," in which I ridiculed the boycott-France movement nearly two years ago; I believe four red-state readers unsubscribed.) During these years much has happened to tempt me to quit writing, most notably becoming a father. But my four-year-old daughter thinks it's rather cool that I write about wine, and I truly enjoy the friendships I've made among readers, winemakers, retailers and yes, publicists. You've all been helpful and supportive, and I'm grateful.
Special thanks to Robin Garr, who has graciously posted and archived each edition of WineLine on his stellar WineLoversPage.com, a virtual community of oenophiles; and to Michael Birchenall, who publishes my columns in Foodservice Monthly, a restaurant trade magazine for the Mid-Atlantic region (http://www.foodservicemonthly.com). Thanks also to Tim Moriarty and Daryna Tobey, editors at Wine Enthusiast, who have published (and paid for) several of my scribblings over the past four years.
My New Year's Resolutions: Drink more Riesling, Cesanese, and Pinot Noir. And, for the fourth or fifth year in a row, develop my own Web site. There, I've put it print. Now I have to do it.
And to each of you, I wish a happy and prosperous 2005.
Subscriptions to Dave McIntyre's WineLine are free. Send a blank e-mail to join: firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers are encouraged to forward this newsletter to anyone sharing an interest in wine.
Dave McIntyre is Wine Editor of Foodservice Monthly, a trade publication for the restaurant industry in the mid-Atlantic region. His writings have appeared in Wine Enthusiast, The Washington Post, Washington Life, Capital Style, the newsletters of the American Institute of Wine & Food, Decanter.com, Sidewalk.com and WineToday.com, among other publications. He has appeared on radio on NPR's Kojo Nnamdi Show and on WTOP's "Man About Town" segment. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food. Dave McIntyre's WineLine is archived on Robin Garr's WineLoversPage.com. E-mail Dave at McIntyreWineLine@yahoo.com.