Celebrated Burgundy producer Domaine Leflaive have switched away from natural cork to DIAM for all their wines, beginning with the soon-to-be released 2014 vintage.
I was alterted to this news by a tweet from Neal Martin, and I spoke on the phone this morning with Adam Brett-Smith of exclusive UK agents Corney & Barrow, who confirmed that from Bourgougne Blanc to Montrachet, proprietor Brice de La Morandiere has decided to bottle everything with this alternative closure. Brice, Anne-Claude Leflaive’s nephew and great grand son of Joseph Leflaive, has been fine-tuning how things are done at the domaine, and this is one of the changes.
This is the highest profile estate to move away from natural cork, and as such, it’s big news. Others in Burgundy have already experimented or shifted altogether, and it’s likely that more producers of white Burgundy will now also make the switch. Some years ago Ponsot famously adopted the rather unusual ArdeaSeal, an exotic plastic cork. Benjamin Leroux has used screwcaps for all his whites from 2014, except for those wines destined for markets where he feels they won’t accept alternatives to cork. From 2013, Dominique Lafon has also been using DIAM.
The big problem facing white Burgundy over recent years has been premature oxidation (known as PremOx). After a few years of cellaring, within the same case some of the bottles might be drinking perfectly, while others will be oxidised. There’s been a lot of discussion about its cause(s), but it’s clear that one of the contributors is the cork. While the wines seem to have become more fragile, it is the variation in cork that shows this fragility up. A more consistent closure with very low oxygen transmission might make PremOx rarer, even if it can’t deal with the underlying causes (which still aren’t completely clear).
the PremOx problem came to light from the 1996 vintage onwards. After being relatively unscathed with this issue, Leflaive reportedly suffered very badly with PremOx from the 2006 vintage onwards. Perhaps this is one reason they were keen to shift from natural cork.
DIAM, which is a technological cork made from grinding up bits of natural cork, cleaning them with supercritical carbon dioxide, and then glueing them back together with synthetic microspheres, is seen as a possible solution. It is consistent, and allows just a little oxygen transmission, like a good cork might. I’ve always had good experiences with DIAM-sealed bottles, but some winemakers claim they can spot a wine sealed this way because it dampens the fruit a bit. Andrew Jefford discusses this in an article on DIAM here.
The other option that may well take off for white Burgundy is screwcap, with a tin/saran liner. There are concerns that these screwcaps can cause or exaggerate reductive tendencies in wine, but some of my favourite new world Chardonnay producers, including Kumeu River, Neudorf and Norman Hardie all use screwcaps and the wines are thrilling. It will be interesting to see whether or not Domaine Leflaive’s shift causes a mass move away from natural cork to alternatives such as DIAM and screwcap.