Corks vs. screw tops, Bali wine, and Santa Claus: Just another Friday night with Frank

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By Jim Boyce

I’ve spent a great deal of time drinking and thinking about wine this past year and have emerged with mixed opinions, but happily I just got an email from regular commentator 8 Songs that reminded me why I like both wine and the Friday night with Frank tastings in Beijing. There aren’t many places where you can have an impromptu cork versus screw top contest, try an Indonesian wine, and experience excellent comradery all in one night. So, here is 8 Songs’ take on just such an occasion, though he seems to have left out the parts about dancing on chairs and a regular dressing up as Santa Claus (yes, I have my sources).

“The Friday night wine tasting at Sequoia Café last Friday night yielded an unexpected and enlightening opportunity to pit screw top against cork.

“It came about because the evening was a “bring your own bottle” night. Amongst the treasures from the 14 who attended were two bottles of Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. One was under cork, the other had a screw top.

“A more diligent reporter would have gone to Penfolds to check the logic for why one of their premium wines should have two different closures….

“We did check the provenance of the two bottles before us. One came from the duty free store at Sydney Airport two months ago, while the other was lifted from a private collection in Melbourne.

“Our host Frank Siegel suggested we do a taste-off and supplied us with a second glass.

“The two wines were like chalk and cheddar, tea and turnips, or Pavarotti and punk – whichever imagery works for you.

“Though both had a deep purple, almost black appearance in the glass, one introduced itself with a full aroma suggesting a fine balance between fruit and tannin. The other had a fruit aroma but without the complexity. In the mouth, the first caressed our taste buds with an explosion of flavour at the start, a complex structure and a long slow finish with a hint of acid that suggested it could have stayed in the cellar another couple of years. The other was an ordinary wine with no complexity and barely any resemblance to its brother. (Or is it sister?)

“I need to reveal a few qualifications on this.

“- We had already “tasted” about a dozen wines before these two. I saw no one spit their taste at any time during the evening.

” – We had fresh glasses for the screw-top wine, but for the cork we used our same glasses as for the previous 10 or so bottles.

” - We did not give the two bottles any airing time. They were cracked and poured. Some time in a carafe may have helped the second wine.

” – Yours truly brought one of the two 407s.

“So which was which? We had 14 tasters, some with palates still maturing, others with quite advanced technical skills. But the verdict was unanimous – the wine under cork had aged magnificently and had developed into a great wine. The wine under aluminium had not done a thing in its three or four years in the bottle. It was truly stuck in a time warp.

“The group lamented that we had neither Jim Boyce [Thanks for the plug! – Ed.] nor Beijing’s ambassador for cork Ricardo Duarte there that night.

“By the way, we had another surprise that evening. A bottle of Indonesian white wine was offered for tasting. Called Aga White and from the highlands of Bali, the label urged us not to cellar this wine. But it was fine – a slight apple/citrus taste but well built and would be perfect on a long slow Sunday afternoon on Kuta Beach [“Is this a motion for a field trip?” – Ed.].

More on corks and screw tops:
Screw it? A video conference with Wolf Blass and George Samios
Cork it? An interview with Amorim’s Carlos de Jesus
The fault with no name: Frankie Zhao on corked wine in China

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  1. I was privaledged enough to try a Lindemans Bin series Semillon (Hunter valley) at age around twenty years old, under screw cap, drinking magnificently with bottle age development, and a little underlying primary fruit. It was a museum release from Lindemans own cellars, from a good year in the late sixties, even back then the benefits of screwcaps were known to winemakers (small amounts of cellaring wines closed this way). I was able to experience a wine in good condition from a great vintage, a wine almost as old as I was at the time, and I’d guess that if it had been under cork, the wine would have faded dramatically by then.

    Although research will take time, it will show that wine does age under screwcap, just at a slower rate. For some of us, that’s not ideal, for others who like to age wines for longer (e.g.,like to celebrate the birth year of your child on their 18th b’day), it opens up a whole range of possibilities. A case of our favourite mid-priced wines from ’84 for your son?

    But who’s cellaring wines today? Current stats estimate that 90-95% of wine is consumed in the first twenty four hours of its purchase. Not many of us by the sounds? So why should wine drinkers who hate having to tip wines with cork problems, down the sink, have to put up? Give us the option. Sounds like Penfolds are.

    BTW Jim, did you ever consider that you were lucky not to get a corked bottle, wouldn’t that have been a let down on the night. Thankfully not. Hence the cork related expression: “There are no such things as good wine vintages, just good wine bottles”. Corks, the weakest link in the bottle are holding our good vintages, aaah, over a barrel?

  2. Aaaahhh ….Happy to read that.

    The screw tops should definitively be used for the wines chich have to be consumed very young ( 3 years max).

    Many screw tops’ wines are really good but it depends the kind of wines.

    Obviously, It’s a crime to bottle a Penfolds Bin 407 with a screw top.

    Thx for this article

  3. Interesting comparison. I guess the lesson learned is that wines that do well lying dusty in the cellar, should have a cork, and wines meant to be drunk young and fresh need a screw cap. But who wants to wait 4 X the amount of years to drink from their cellar. Some might say, in the long run that would be better – but like the famous quote go’s – In the long run we’re all dead.

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