This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Jul. 21, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080721.php.
Screwcaps turn to pricey wine
Since we got a stack of good, serious responses to Friday's article about a modest Sauvignon Blanc's staying power under a sturdy metal screwcap, let's take another look at screwcaps from a different perspective today.
As many will recall, less than a decade ago, the metal screwcap was so thoroughly identified with nasty, "rotgut" wines that the conventional wisdom held that wine "geeks" would never accept them for "serious" wines.
Then PlumpJack Winery, a pricey boutique operation in California's Napa Valley announced in June 2000 that it would equip some of its 1997 Reserve Cabernet with metal screw caps - and that the screw-capped bottles would go for $135, or $10 more than the same wine stoppered with a natural cork.
At that time, just eight years ago, the notion of putting an expensive, collectible wine under a screwcap - just like Wild Irish Rose! - was such an offbeat idea that Plumpjack grabbed headlines in the general media. As a tiny producer that would put metal caps on the produce of only about a dozen barrels that year, they would barely move the market. But they certainly brought attention to the issue.
To that point, only a relatively small number of wineries - most of them in Australia and New Zealand - had been experimenting with the metal cap, a sturdy, long-sleeved device that held wine securely, a far cry from the puny caps used on cheap wines and booze.
Sometime soon after 2000 more and more wines started showing up with the sturdy Stelvin screwcaps. (Others went with plastic-type synthetic "corks," a separate story for another day.) I rather doubt that Plumpjack did much to influence the shift, but certainly public attitudes about wine closures began to change as wine lovers tired of an unacceptably high failure rate of "cork taint" in natural cork.
New Zealand and Australia led the charge, particularly with white wines, which seemed to retain particular clarity and freshness under screw cap. Other white-wine producing regions - Germany, Austria and some U.S. producers - soon joined in. And eventually, red wines too, particularly those not destined for long-term storage, started showing up with metal caps.
Until now, though, there's seemingly been a price ceiling. Save for the Plumpjack exception, screwcaps and synthetics seemed to find their market niche mostly among "everyday" wines in the $7 to $15 or even $20 range.
But recently I'm starting to see another small but significant change. As evidence mounts that ageworthy wines may evolve very nicely indeed under a good screwcap (a debatable issue that had supported the last bastion for natural cork in fancy, cellarworthy wine), These closures are appearing on much more expensive wines in the $50-and-up range, wines as suited for cellaring as for early consumption.
It's slow coming - my friends at Brown-Forman tell me, for instance, that the excellent Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Chardonnay will show up in screwcap with this year's vintage ... but only as an experiment in Texas and Florida at this time. So progress comes slowly, very slowly.
Thus my surprise when I happily ripped open my recent monthly box of goodies from California Wine Club's high-end Connoisseurs' Series recently and found a trendy, $50-plus Oregon Pinot Noir sporting the familiar metal screwcap. I may have missed it, but at least in my observations at local retail, this is the most costly wine I've found under screwcap since the original Plumpjack experiment.
It's a splendid wine, too, particularly for those who prize their Pinot in the big, intense and blockbuster style. It's made by Pali Wine CDompany of California, whose wine maker is the respected Brian Loring, a man known for making Pinot with real muscles. This may seem an odd combination to bring to an Oregon Pinot, a niche more typically prized for a relatively Burgundian elegance. But this one works for me. It's intense, big and alcoholic and complex and balanced, almost like (if you can imagine such a thing) a Burgundy on steroids.
It retails for $55, although Connoisseurs' Series members may place "restock" orders for less, which, as I said, breaks the $50 barrier for screw capped wines. I don't think it will be the last to do so. My tasting notes are below.
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Pali Wine Company 2006 "Momtazi Vineyard" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($51 retail; $44 per bottle for half or full case orders by Connoisseurs' Series members)
This monthly offering from Connoisseurs' Series is a dark ruby color, showing crimson glints against the light. Good Pinot aromas, red and black cherries and a light, delicate overtone of cola and brown spice. Mouth-filling and ripe, good acidity and firm tannins; nicely balanced, intense, on the big and ripe side by Oregon standards; of course a lot of people will like that. Moreover, when paired with excellent rare beef, the synergy is amazing, the flavors of the wine and the meat merging in a silken flow. Just 225 cases were made. Winery Website: http://www.paliwineco.com/ (July 19, 2008)
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns. Please note that for a small summer break, we've put the FoodLetter on a short-term vacation and are skipping some (but not all) Friday editions.
Screwcap protects freshness? (July 18, 2008)
A peek at Norton (July 16, 2008)
Super-mini (July 14, 2008)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: