Stelvins and corks both have their proponents - but what is right for what?

The Terroirist: Screwtop Scramble

One in a continuing series

80 years ago, for wine, there was only really one choice of closure - the cork. Simple, natural, effective - and able to spawn a burgeoning spin-off industry of corkscrews. As time progressed, industry looked for alternative closures, and there were many - bag-in-box, tetrapacks, tincans, and most notably, screw-tops. Fearing the wrath of traditionalists, most winemakers only focused the alternative closures on cheap, bulk wine. Because of this the consumer association came to be that screw-tops and other closures were themselves cheap and second-rate.

Fast foward to the mid-90s. Winemakers (especially in New Zealand) began experimenting again with screw-top (now called Stelvin) closures, mostly for their white wines - low and behold, they found that not only did it keep wines fresh and free of oxygen, but it also avoided the hazards of cork: namely cork-taint. Cellar-trials showed that it would keep wines from oxidating for extended periods of time. Stelvins swept like wildfire across New Zealand, especially for Rieslings and Sauvignons, and then to Australia, California, South Africa, and Ontario. The question of red wines still remained, ut that's for another week.

Now, the recommendations.

Something Red:
Chateau Reynella Basket Pressed Cabernet Sauvignon (McLaren Vale, Australia) $29.95, 976399
One of the common problems with Australian wine is that in their quest for powerful fruit, they abandon complexity, creating what might-as-well be glorified grape-juice and vodka. Not so with the Reynella. It's clear from the inky cassis-purple colour that it is a well extracted wine, but just as clear from the beautifully put together nose of capuccino, mocha, orange, and plum that it isn't over extracted at all. Big and full in the mouth, with flavours that echo the aromas, this is a wine that you can happily drink now, or watch it improve in a cellar for 4 or 5 years.

Something White:
Domaine LaFrance Ice Cider (Quebec, Canada) 375mL $23.95, 694538
Okay, so maybe I'm cheating; maybe somebody is going to point out to me that this isn't made from grapes, isn't a wine, and doesn't belong here. Phooey to you, I say. I've featured sakes and araks before, and my main qualification - beyond for this section the colour - is how it tastes - and this is lovely. A bright gold colour in the glass, the aromas fill your senses with powerful notes of kiln-dried apples. In the mouth it is sweet and rich, with flavours of apple pie, dried apples, and cinnamon coming to the fore. Yum.

Something Different:
Botromagno 'Pier Delle Vigne' (Puglia, Italy) $17.95, 978910
When I first read the back label of this wine, announcing itself as a 'Super Puglian' I laughed. A Super-Tuscan is a wine which despite breaking the rules for what can go in a DOC Toscana (or Chianti) wine - usually the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon - is nevertheless a quality wine. It seemed that success breeds imitators. But then I poured some into my glass, and marveled at the medium intensity tawny colour that it showed. The nose was a bundle, filled with sour cherries, green vegetables, mint, tar, and tobacco. On the palate is was soft and rounded, with flavours of liquorice, brandy, cherry, mint, and tar. On the finish, I detected a faint but noticeable maderised character. This is a fantastic wine that would go ideally with veal or a chicken/tomato combination.

Happy drinking, and enjoy Winterlicious!

The Terroirist is published fortnighly on Thursdays

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