jamie goode's wine blog: A short position statement on closures

Friday, December 26, 2008

A short position statement on closures

So what's my current position on wine bottle closures? [This is a lenghy post I've just made to an online wine forum, in response to another post.]

There's no such thing as a perfect closure. It's about choosing the best closure available for your wine. If it were a simple matter of 'sealing' a bottle to stop liquid coming out, then of course there would be no excuse for continuing to use cork. There are a range of alternative wine bottle closures that are taint free. Take your pick.

But what we've learned - largely through the adoption of alternatives to cork - is that the oxygen transmission properties of the closure matter. And the precise level of oxygen transmission will affect the way the wine develops after bottling.

For an inexpensive wine that's likely to be drunk within a year or two after release, it's nuts to use natural cork, because cheap natural cork is nasty and carries a risk of taint. For these wines, synthetic corks, screwcaps with a saranex-only liner (there are two different liners for screwcaps, one of which allows very little oxygen transmission - the tin/saran - and one which allows more - saranex only) or Diam represent good alternatives.

Microagglomerates that have been steam-cleaned are also a good bet, although do carry a small risk of taint, as do steam-cleaned one-plus-ones (two discs of natural cork sandwiching an agglomerate core).

For more expensive wines that may be cellared, then it becomes more tricky. I'd say for high end, ageable wines then natural cork bought from the most quality-minded cork producers is the best option. This is because we like the way that wine develops under good natural corks.

I'm personally not keen on the tin/saran liner used widely for screwcaps. It just doesn't allow enough oxygen transmission. This means that there's a risk of reductive problems post-bottling (although the exact nature of this risk hasn't yet been quantified). It also means that the wine will develop differently to the way it develops under cork. Will it be better? How lucky do you feel?

Synthetic corks have developed quite a bit over the last decade to the point where they are claiming really good oxygen transmission characteristics. I'd like to see independent data on this. Likewise with Vino-Lok, the glass closure where the seal is by means of a plastic 'O' ring. It's certainly a functional and good looking closure.

Diam may prove suitable for long-ageing wines. I'm sure it's good for 10 years, because the Altec (the tainted predecessor using the same mechanical design) has shown the physical integrity of the closure is fine after this time.

Finally, a plea - let's try to be as informed as possible when we discuss this complex business of closures. I've found the whole debate to be unessecarily polaized in the past, with people splitting off into factions, and spouting propaganda at each other. For example, when we talk about 'screwcaps', let's remember that the screwcap isn't the closure, but merely a way of holding the liner in apposition to the rim of the bottle. It's the liner that determines the oxygen transmission properties of the closure.

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At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Laurence said...

Jamie, I have never had a bottle of any sparkling wine that has been corked (or more accurately, that I have noticed being corked). What is your and indeed other readers experience? is it that the bubbles weakens our experience of cork taint? Does the secondary fermentation kill the taint? (most of the sparkling wines I drink would be made using the champenoise method, even if not champagne). Any thoughts?

At 10:51 PM, Blogger Gianpaolo Paglia said...

I found your statement about the need of oxigen and the fact that the tin /saran liner don't allow enough of it in the wine, very interesting.
Are there any scientific evidences that support what you said, are they available on line? I'd like to see some numbers if possible. Thank you
Gianpaolo Poggio Argentiera

At 12:20 AM, Blogger Martin said...

Laurence, this is a common sentiment amongst Champagne drinkers and I feel there are many reasons, one being that drinkers don't want to see any fault as it is a celabratory drink, and generally taken when spirits are high. 2 weeks ago I had a Pol NV as a lunch celabration that was obviously corked, but we drank it anyway. I have had a Grand Dame that was too rotten to consume and got binned - an expensive disaster - and a Bollinger Rose in which the cork had shrunk and the wine was flat - not corked but a cork fault. A few years ago I did a masterclass in a (nameless) prestige Champ house. The question of cork was put to the head winemaker who said they reject cork shipments when their inhouse sampling spots taint at higher then 3%. They reject 1 in 5 containers and no doubt this cork is not destroyed...He also said his own results show corkiness or bad cork faults shows up higher then this after final bottling. They considered it a huge problem but marketing shows we don't. The Reims University has several papers available from post grads (in French) that discuss TCA and the ongoing problem of cork. Also, how many houses don't use crown seals for secondary ferment anymore? It is not just the ease factor - and some of these houses are ageing for decades or more on crown and not cork.

At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did a 12 + 12 bottle Cava cork test whilst working for a UK multiple. The first batch had composite and the second natural corks. Natural showed less cork taint (approx 2 / 12) than composite (4 / 12) but the composite avoided any cork failure/oxidation.



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