Wine of the Week: A screw cap education

Like the recent cicada hatch, we have recently emerged from our COVID-19 cocoon and have cautiously reengaged with several of our friends, so we were thrilled when my wife and I received an invitation from our neighbor to join him for dinner. Naturally, I brought along a bottle of wine to open and enjoy with our meal, but not knowing exactly what our host preferred, I played it safe and brought a versatile white wine that’s usually a crowd pleaser.

As soon as we arrived, I handed the wine to our host with a touch of ceremony and was shocked when a look of what can only be described as disappointment spread across his face. Uh oh, I thought, did I bring a wine that reminded him of a bad experience, or worse, his ex-wife? I couldn’t resist. I had to know what was behind his obvious distress. I was relieved, yet somewhat annoyed, by his response.

“Well,” he replied, “I thought that you were an educated wine guy who was going to bring some fancy wine to dinner. I’m just a little surprised that you brought a wine with a screw cap.” And there it was. I was standing face-to-face with a screw cap chauvinist. I knew I was in for a long evening.

Fortunately, he was more interested in learning than debating, so I took the opportunity to explain why I thought screw caps were not only a legitimate bottle closure alternative to cork, but also why they were preferable in certain situations. While cork — processed from the bark of a particular oak tree species that grows mainly in Portugal — has been the front-runner for keeping wine in bottles for centuries, it is not without some drawbacks.

First and foremost is “cork taint,” or 2,4,6 Trichloroanisole (TCA), which happens when naturally occurring fungi in the cork comes into contact with Chlorophenol compounds, such as the bleach used to clean corks. TCA imparts a musty, dank, wet cardboard character to wine, literally masking all other aromas and flavors. While cork producers have reduced the frequency of tainted corks, wine industry research indicates that 3% to 5% of all wines sealed with a cork are affected to some degree by TCA contamination.

Second is a phenomenon known as “flavor scalping” where the cork absorbs flavors from the wine. In addition, the porous nature of corks allows a miniscule exchange of air in and out of the bottle which, in many cases can actually aid in the aging process, but in excess can lead to premature oxidation of the wine.

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Lastly, screw caps require no special tools to open, and can be easily resealed.

However, screw caps aren’t perfect. Because they are not porous, wines sealed with a screw cap do not age as well — if at all — the way wines sealed with corks do. And in rare cases, screw caps can impart a burnt or rubberized flavor to the wine due to faulty process.

By the end of my discourse, our host seemed to be appeased, but just to be safe, I decided to let the wine speak for itself and win the closing argument. After a twist of the wrist, a good time was had by all as we raised our glasses and toasted to screwing off.

For the record, the wine that I brought over for dinner was the 2019 Caymus Conundrum white wine blend from California. This intriguing blend of Chardonnay, Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier grapes are sourced from various vineyards throughout California and is a great value. It features aromas of honeysuckle, peaches and apricot and mouth-filling flavors of melon, pear and creamy vanilla. Citrus notes sneak in on the crisp, semi-dry finish. $12

Elena Walch was a successful architect from Milan when she fell in love with Werner Walch, the proprietor of the Wilhelm Walch estate, which had been in his family since 1869. Her marriage took her to the vineyards of Alto Adige in Italy, where she eventually discovered her own knack for making wines of distinction and finesse. Today, she is considered the Queen of Pinot Grigio and her 2020 Elena Walch Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, Italy is proof. The bouquet is bursting with aromas of orange blossom, grapefruit and pineapple. Crisp notes of nectarine, peach and lemon/lime fill the mouth while bracing acidity keeps the finish fresh and lively. $24

A bottle with a screw cap enclosure used to be a warning sign that a wine might be of lesser quality, but not today. Take exhibit A, the 2018 Alexana “Revana Vineyard” Riesling from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The fruit is grown on a cool microclimate vineyard that consistently produces a decidedly dry wine with aromas of apple blossom, orchard fruit and lemon zest. On the palate, the substantial acidity provides a lovely platform for flavors of grapefruit, nectarine, and lemongrass up front while notes of tangy kumquats file in on the back. The bone-dry finish keeps the palate refreshed. Enjoy with grilled zucchini or eggplant. $32

While it is my observation that most wines under screw cap are white wines, there are indeed a few red wines with a twist-top, including the 2019 d’Arenberg The Stump Jump is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre from McLaren Vale may be one of the best red wine values coming out of Australia today. This line-up of three muscular grapes possesses a huge nose full of blueberries and blackberries. On the palate, it delivers a lush yet balanced mouthful of black fruit flavors and spices that pair perfectly with summertime dinners like barbeque ribs or lamb burgers. $10

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