Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What's New Year's Without Bubby Wine?

A wine writer’s occupational hazards include obligatory New Year’s columns on sparkling wines and year-end ‘best of” lists.

It’s fun to review the previous year and pick out a Top 10 – something you’ll read in the next Grape Sense. It’s tougher to write about sparkling wines when it isn’t a favorite. Still, it’s the time of year a lot of questions come up about a New Year’s sparkler.

After a little more than three years and 82 newspaper columns, only two were about sparkling wines.  Some of that is repeated here along with two best bet suggestions.

Any discussion about sparkling wine has to start with French Champagne. It’s not cheap, there is lots of it, and it can range from plain awful to magic in a glass. You can buy the Dom Perignon for around $130 a bottle. You can take a step up from that and go with Louis Roederer’s Cristal in a crystal bottle if you’re prepared to shell out $350.

But let’s face it; most of us aren’t buying that sort of wine.

If you want something more than the grocery’s usual Asti-Spumante (which isn’t bad), then you have to get into your nearest wine shop and rely on the merchant’s expertise. 

A good place to start is with an Italian Prosecco. It’s generally lighter than champagne, less alcohol content, but you still get the bubbles! And you can find pretty decent Prosecco at $15-$20.

Another great pick is a Spanish Cava. Cava hails from the region around Barcelona. Cava sparkling wines have become very popular and can be found in the $10-$20 range.

If you want a good U.S. sparkling wine (only France’s Champagne region can call its juice ‘Champagne’) there are good options. California’s Korbel and Washington’s St. Michelle have value sparklers and more expensive bubbling wines that will be great for Dec. 31.

Roederer Estate in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley makes really beautiful sparkling wine at a higher price point. I tasted several of their sparkling wines during a January 2011 trip to Mendocino and all were really beautiful. The Roederer Estate sparklers range from $20-$150.

Probably the easiest to find and safest choice, that will delight your palate, is California’s Gloria Ferrer’s Sonoma Brut. The wonderful and affordable Ferrer Brut is made of the traditional blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The bubbly has a nice soft or almost creamy feel in your mouth. It tastes much better than its easy-to-digest price point of $16-$20.

My top choice for your New Year’s Eve is widely available and one of the best wines I tasted this year. Banfi Rosa Regale is a delicious Italian sparkling wine. It has strong raspberry with a rich mid-palate. The bubbles are somewhat restrained. The dark cranberry color is festive and beautiful. The alcohol is a ridiculously low 7 percent. The suggested retail is $20.

You can’t go wrong with the Gloria Ferrer Brut or Banfi Sparkling Rose’. Try either or both and celebrate the New Year!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Choosing Wine as a Holiday Gift

A bottle of wine makes a lovely Christmas gift when attending parties, calling on friends, or for that wine lover next door.

But, what should you buy? There are a couple of things you can do to assure success.

-          Does the person enjoy wine? Are they a regular wine drinker or just an occasional glass?

-          Does the person enjoy red more than white or vice-versa?

-          What are you willing to spend on a bottle of wine?

With no offense to grocery stores or even liquor stores with limited inventory, the first piece of advice is get to a wine shop or a liquor store with a wide selection and a knowledgeable staff.

Almost all good wine shops are a lot more interested in making you happy than just selling you a bottle $5 higher than you intended on spending. Small retail business of all type are totally dependent on repeat business.

Let’s talk in general about some wines that would be great gifts. In this Grape Sense, I’m only recommending wines I have tried in recent years.

If your friend is a Chardonnay fan try to find something different than the stereotypical California oak-laden Chard. Ask the sales person for an unoaked Chardonnay or a Chardonnay that is a blend of oaked and unoaked juice. There is a huge selection of good Chardonnay under $18.

If this is a special friend get to a wine shop with a higher-end inventory and buy a French Chablis or White Burgundy. The 2008 Domain Joseph Drouhin Chablis is outstanding wine lighter on the palate with bright acidity. The White Burgundy will be more expensive but be one of the nicest glasses of white wine your friend may ever enjoy. 

If you’re feeling adventurous look for a nice white blend. Sokol Blossor, Oregon, makes a delightful white with intense fruit and lasting palate impression called Evolution. It can be found in most wine shops at $15. Caymus’ Conundrum is a sweeter blend of several grapes that gives you tangy green apple, tangerine, and floral characteristics. The Condundrum normally retails $20-$25.

It’s easy to pick a Cabernet Sauvignon off the shelf and throw a bow on it. But don’t overlook the many beautiful red blends that are easy to drink, affordable, and go with just about any meal. I’d direct consumers to Washington State red wines or California’s Paso Robles region. Paso specializes in the traditionally French Rhone grapes. It would be a unique gift that will impress your guests. You might look around for Ortman’s Cuvee Eddy, a wonderful Paso blend that sells for under $20.

I think of all red wine Pinot Noir makes the most beautiful gift. I’ve written often that good Pinot is very hard to find for under $20. There are a few labels that are nice wines – Robert Mondavi, Mark West, Drouhin’s La Floret, Mirassou, and Dashwood all come in under $15.

But it’s Christmas so splurge a little. Lange Winery’s Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is stunning for $22. It drinks far beyond its price point. There are many Oregon Pinot wines in the $20-$30 range which would impress.

And finally don’t forget the Rose’ wines. With the varied shades of red and pink they make a festive addition to your holiday table before they are ever opened. A dry Rose can pair with just about any food or appetizer and makes a great sipper for holiday parties. Rose is not expensive wine. Try Charles & Charles from Washington state for a wine that is worthy of any table. It sells for less than $15.

If you want a very special treat, again head to the nicer wine shop and pick up a Rose from France Provence region. Provence winemakers produce some of the world’s best Rose’ wines. They are typically a light salmon color. The wine is quite dry with beautifully balanced fruit and acidity.

Good to great Provence Rose’ can be found for $20-$50. If you’ve never had a great dry Rose’, one of the Provence wines will totally rock your wine world.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Guidelines for Your Holiday Turkey Wine Picks

There are thousands of wine bloggers, many wine writers and still a handful of newspaper wine columnists. They’re all writing about Thanksgiving/Christmas and wine pairing this time of year. I’ve done the same in recent years, and think it’s important to offer a little help when it’s most needed

Instead of a long list of wine selections, (I’ll offer a few recommendations throughout), how about some general guidelines to help you pick the right wines for your turkey dinner whether its Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Thanksgiving is about family so make it a festive occasion. Try a light sparkling wine before the big meal. It’s sure to be a hit. Look for a Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, or Gloria Ferrer’s delightful Sonoma County sparklers. For something really festive and delicious, I love Banfi Rosa Regale. The Banfi wine sells for right at $20, has just seven percent alcohol, and is delicious.

Wines with a higher acidity are going to pair better with fowl. There will be lots of different flavors on your holiday table and you want something that will hold up to everything served.

Consider buying several different wines if you have a large guest list. Most Thanksgiving family feasts feature a veritable cornucopia of dishes, so why serve just one wine?

First, there are no right picks. If you like it drink it. With that out of the way, it’s a good idea to rule out big red wines. Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Malbec are going to overpower the bird and side dishes.
Speaking of side dishes, consider the flavors and spices used to make the sides when picking a wine – not just the bird.

Wines with a higher acidity are going to pair better with fowl. There will be lots of different flavors on your holiday table and you want something that will hold up to everything served.

Consider buying several different wines if you have a large guest list. Most Thanksgiving family feasts feature a veritable cornucopia of dishes, so why serve just one wine?

When it comes time for dinner there is such a wide variety of choices. Instead of a Chardonnay, which can be over-powering and boring, try a semi-dry to dry Riesling? Gewurztraminer has become a very popular Thanksgiving wine in recent years. The wonderful spicy and floral aromas and taste are perfect for light fall fare.

If you want to support local pour an Indiana-made Traminette, a close cousin to the Gewurzt grape. Most Hoosier winemakers produce a sweet to semi-sweet version of the state grape that will work well with dinner. Just go to the semi-sweet or dry side if possible. Turtle Run Winery makes a dynamite dry Traminette if you can find it available.

A dry rose’ would also be a bold and delicious pairing.

If you like red there are more choices than Pinot Noir, a classic pick. While many might suggest the seasonal Beaujolais Nouveau, I always suggest a Beaujolais Grand Cru wine. Pick up a Beaujolais Morgon or Fleurie. A personal favorite is Georges Duboeuf’s Julienas which is widely available at $11-$15.

If you insist on Pinot you can’t go wrong on the pairing. I’d recommend staying on the lighter side and going up to the $15 price point. There are several drinkable Pinots around $10. New Zealand’s Dashwood, California’s Mark West, and the classic Burgundy of Domain Joseph Drouhin. Drouhin’s LaForet Pinot sells for just $10. Pick up Lange Vineyard’s Willamette Valley Pinot for around $20 for a real treat. The 2009 Lange Pinot is unbelievable wine for a 20-dollar bill.

Finally, don’t hesitate to do something a little crazy. I’m not a big fruit wine fan but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find some well-made fruit wines. Consider pouring a little dry cranberry wine with dinner. Cherry wine might have the same fun factor.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Some Great (Cheap) Wine Picks

The phone rings, then a text message, and sometimes I’m stopped at the grocery. It’s no sudden rush of fame but more likely after three years of wine writing I’ve become the ‘wine guy.’  And I admit I really enjoy it.
It’s usually a wine newbie, or even a really young (always over 21) wine drinker wanting a question answered or a recommendation. It’s happened a lot lately so that made me think it’s time again to offer up some really affordable choices and maybe repeat a few old ones.

All of these wines are under $15 (or less) and readily available in Indiana, Illinois and most Midwestern states.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection – This is the entry level wines for the iconic Mondavi line mentioned in my last column. I have tried one more of those wines since the last Grape Sense and the quality is very consistent. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay are all consistently good value wines for $11. And better yet, the Mondavi Private Selection label is really easy to find.
Here is the spot where I should also repeat an oft-suggested label or two. Mirrasou wines are another great pick from the grocery or a liquor or wine store with limited selection. Smoking Loon,  Bogle, and Blackstone are also palatable wines well under $15.

Banfi Centine Rose’ – Summer is not the only time of the year for dry pink wine. The Centine label is the value line from Banfi – which promotes itself as the world’s oldest winery. They do make some remarkably nice wine for, again, the $11 price point. I recently enjoyed the Rose which was very light in body with nice fresh red berry flavor and a hint of strawberry. The alcohol was a low 12.5 percent which makes it a great party wine. The Centine line also include a nice white blend and a Tuscan red blend which features Italy’s signature Sangiovese grape and Cabernet. These wines are also very easy to find.

Georges Duboeuf 2010 Morgon – The Duboeuf label is widely distributed and something you really should try. Duboeuf is king in France’s Beaujolais district but most people only think of the Nouveau when mentioning Duboeuf. I’ve never been a big fan of the Nouveau (wines that are bottled and sold within months of harvest), finding them rather uninteresting and bland. The Grand Cru Beaujolais is another matter. The Grand Cru (specific growing regions) offer bright fruit, smooth drinkability, and a light mouth feel. The Morgon is one of the top appellations for Beaujolais, I also like the Julienas for its earthy characteristics. The Beaujolais red wines are made from the Gamay grape. These wines are found under $15 and often around the $11-$12 price point.

Domaine de Noire ‘ Chinon  - This is another French wine but from the Loire Valley region. This recommendation is less about the bottle I appreciated and more about the grape. Chinon wines are made from Cabernet Franc, a grape that has gotten little respect and little notice for too long in the wine world. Cabernet Franc might be thought of as Cab Sauvignon’s little brother. It’s certainly lighter and has a nice spice or pepper finish.  It’s often used in blending Bordeaux-style wines. But the grape has gotten much more notice the last year or two for its flexibility. The de Noire was $16 and it is a label that is also easy to find. But pick up a Cab Franc wherever you can find one and give it a try. If Cab Sauv is a little too big for your taste, you just might like Cab Franc. I tasted some wonderful Cab Franc in Michigan last summer and it’s always on the shelves of most wine shops.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, In., writes every other week for 18 Midwestern newspapers. Check out is wine blog at:

Robert Mondavi's Impact in Perspective

The Oct. 5 death of Apple founder Steve Jobs had many people grappling with perspective on his death. Many called him this generation’s Thomas Edison or Henry Ford.

At about the same time two shipments of Robert Mondavi wines arrived to my office. Mondavi has been a household name to many for decades. But the odd timing brought into focus that beginning wine drinkers or value wine drinkers should know about America’s most iconic wine name.

Anyone interested can certainly find ample material online about Robert Mondavi. The details shared in Grape Sense come from internet research and the marketing firm that handles Mondavi wines.

The wines are distributed in all 50 states and are always good representatives of the grapes and a safe choice when nothing else on the shelf looks appealing.

Robert Mondavi became one of the world’s biggest wine brands not just through winemaking but the man’s marketing savvy and business sense. He was the son of Italian immigrants and a graduate of Stanford with a degree in economics and business administration.

He worked at Sunnyhill Winery with his father before the family purchased Charles Krug Winery. At the age of 53 he opened Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa. He pioneered winemaking techniques, led blind tastings, and preached the pleasures of wine, food and the arts to anyone who would listen.

He co-founded the American Institute of Wine and Food with Julia Child and Richard Graff in 1981. He has been “man of the year” for more publications and organizations than there is space to list. Perhaps one of his most notable honors came in 2005 when he won the Legion d’Honneur award, France’s highest Presidential honor.

His story got complicated in the early 1990s when his sons took over the business. They were producing a half-million cases of wine a year but were buried in debt. The family business went public and production soared to nearly 5 million cases annually. The Mondavi empire ended in 2004 when Constellation brands bought Mondavi for more than a billion dollars.

But throughout the ups and downs of the business Robert Mondavi was the spokesman for American wine. He deserves considerable credit for showing the world great wines could be produced in regions outside of Old World Europe.

One of the great partnerships of the last decade was Baron Philippe Rothschild and Robert Mondavi combining efforts in 1979 to create Opus One. The wine became one of the first super premium wines with the two rock star winemakers at the helm. The Bordeaux style blend is currently in its 2008 release and retails for $210.

Robert Mondavi died in 2008 at age 94. His name should be alongside Edison and the light bulb, Henry Ford and the Model T, Michael Jordan and basketball.

I’m frequently asked what wineries one should visit when making a first-time trip to Napa. I always suggest hitting Mondavi’s Spanish style landmark. It is the “granddaddy of them all,” to steal a line from sportscaster Keith Jackson.

The wines are good value at the lower price point and great wines in the upper echelon.

Howard’s Picks:
Robert Mondavi Private Selections include nine different wines at value prices you’ll find in groceries, wine shops, and liquor stores. The wines are very consistent for the under $15 price point. Another good choice in the value category is Mondavi-owned Woodbridge wines.

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley wines are the real flagship wines. These wines retail around $20-$30 and represent great wines, good critic scores, and consistent value for the price point.

Robert Mondavi Reserve Napa Cabernet is the top bottling, consistently garnering 90-plus points and measuring up to any Napa Cab. But it is a $100 a bottle of wine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blaze Your Own Fall Wine Trail

There’s nothing better than an October weekend drive. The leaves are turning, the cider is fresh, and you might even find some frost on the pumpkin. Oh, and don’t forget the apples!

There’s also no better time to visit local wineries. Many Midwestern wineries turn fall into festivals with special wines, food, and entertainment.

Let Grape Sense be your weekend travel guide. One of my favorite journeys is to Southern Indiana to visit Turtle Run and Huber Wineries. Turtle Run has a big day planned Oct. 16 with live music. Huber winery has live music every Saturday and Sunday through October.

Turtle Run's Jim Pfeiffer
While visiting Turtle Run say hello to winemaker and owner Jim Pfeiffer. Try some of his uniquely blended red and white wines.
Huber has quite a festival each October. The apple orchards are full of fruit and the kids can pick out a pumpkin for that special jack-o-lantern.

Huber makes some of Indiana’s best red wines. Try there Generations and Heritage blends. They also make a really nice Cabernet Franc.

Turtle Run and Huber are only a few miles apart. If you go to one, it’s a shame not visit the other!
Jim Butler
On the way south or coming back north go through Bloomington and make a stop at Butler winery’s tasting room downtown or out at the winery north of the city. Jim Butler is one of Indiana’s most-respected winemakers.

Try his wonderful dry Rose, Chambourcin, and dynamite specialty wines.

If you want more of a trip head up to the southwest corner of Michigan. Stop in at the Round Barn Winery, Tabor Hill, and Domaine Berrien Cellars.
The Round Barn has a wide variety of wines and a brewery where they craft beer. I’d recommend the Gewurztraminer. Bring a bottle or two home for your Thanksgiving Turkey.
Tabor Hill is one of the area’s most visited wineries and also features a restaurant. The wines are very light in style but clearly loved in Southern Michigan.
Domaine Berrien is one of the most interesting stops. The winery is one of the only Rhone Rangers members in the Midwest. They grow traditional French grapes, best known from the Rhone Valley, like Viognier, Marsanne, Rousanne and others to make wonderful blended wines.
In Illinois, there are a number of wineries in the southern part of the state. Explore the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail for a wonderful weekend.
Earlier this year I visited Wisconsin and became a big fan of Wollersheim Vineyards just outside Madison. If you make the trip to Southern Wisconsin, drive a half hour south of Wollersheim and visit Fisher King Winery in the charming village of Mount Horeb and enjoy its Norwegian heritage.
But wherever you live there are plenty of options nearby. It’s easy to find these wineries’ websites with a simple internet search. If you’re not sure or want to find some new spots use the state association websites. Here are the official names: Indiana Grape Council, Michigan Wines, Wineries of Wisconsin, and Illinois Wine.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good Wine Will Cure National Syrah Sales

There is a joke in the wine world that goes something like this: ‘What’s the difference between a case of Syrah and a case of pneumonia?’ 

‘You can get rid of a case of pneumonia!’

Syrah sales have stagnated or dropped in the U.S. in recent years depending on how the research numbers are crunched. But everyone agrees Syrah never lived up to its ‘next-best thing’ potential.

Steve Cass
“Supermarket sales are down and you look and see Syrah sales are down,” said Steve Cass, Cass Winery, Paso Robles, CA. “But also take a look and you see Australian sales are down. There is a massive amount of Syrah or Shiraz (same grape) in this country going out at a fairly low price point. It’s not going out as premium wine.

“Our Syrah is our number-one selling red wine. I don’t think people are turned off by Syrah, maybe they’re turned off to cheap Syrah.”
Gary Eberle
California’s Syrah pioneer Gary Eberle agreed. “I think everybody is always looking for the new hot wine. When Merlot died I think everybody started looking for the next hot red wine and everybody jumped on Syrah. I just don’t think the consumer was ready for that much Syrah.”

Jason Hass of Tablas Creek Winery put numbers to the perception. “If you look at the planted acreage of Syrah over the course of the 1990s, 1992-2002, Syrah acreage went from just under 900 to more than 15,000 acres in California. Even though sales were growing really fast throughout that period there was just no way the market was going to absorb that much new Syrah.

“I don’t think you should confuse the fact there is extra Syrah on the market with the fact Syrah is not a varietal gaining popularity. It’s just a case of supply growing so fast it was going to overwhelm whatever demand was there any way.”
J.C. Diesenderfer
J.C. Diesenderfer, Hope Vineyards, said Syrah never found its market niche’. “We’re all really passionate about Syrah. We always felt Syrah was the next king of California. But it never found its spot. Syrah can be bright, mineral, soft and elegant. It can be a big bruiser. It can be anything in between.”
If you are a regular wine drinker you might recall grocery and liquor store shelves with plenty of Syrah. In recent months, you see far less Syrah or Shiraz. These prominent winemakers hit the nail right on the head during a seminar I attended last fall. The market was just flooded with cheap Shiraz, largely from Australia.

“I think Syrah does beautifully in Paso Robles,” Eberle said. “But I think Syrah does beautifully in a whole lot of different areas as well. In our tasting rooms we sell 1,000 cases of Syrah a year. There are people in this area making spectacular Syrah.

Then there is former NFL safety turned winemaker Terry Hoage who said Syrah sells when consumers are educated and they taste good Syrah. “I think it is a matter of education because it’s difficult for people to know what they’re getting. The largest hurdle we have to overcome in our industry is not dumbing down for the audience but making the audience feel comfortable that’s its ok to try new things. Push the envelope; just don’t go for a safe Cabernet. That is probably our biggest challenge.”

Howard’s Picks:
Central Coast Syrah is some of the best I’ve consumed. The winemakers quoted above all make incredible Syrah but at a higher price point ($20 and up) than I normally include in this column. There is plenty of Central Coast Syrah below $20 from makers like Qupe’. Washington State Syrah is often found at very reasonable prices with soft and balanced fruit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mixed Ancestry Charbono Making a Comeback

Is it Italian or French?

Is the wine a unique ancient varietal?

Or, is it the same grape as Argentina’s Bonarda or maybe a genetic cousin?

Charbono, a grape most have never heard of, is making a small comeback. It wasn’t long ago that U.S. plantings had dwindled to about 10 acres. The latest available statistics show Charbono’s plantings have grown to 80 acres, all in California.

As written here before, one of the great experiences in wine enjoyment is trying new wines. It won’t be easy to find a Charbono but it is worth the effort. The wine is a very inky, dark purple with a rich red-fruit flavor. Cherry and raspberry dominate the palate with a bit of spice on the finish. The tannins, or finish, tend to be quite smooth.

Sally Ottoson, Pacific Star Winery

The grape is interesting because of its confusing heritage. The grape was once thought to be related to Italy’s little Dolcetto grape from Piedmont. But it actually comes from the Savoie region in France. That explains how the grape migrated to Argentina along with Malbec.

The ancestral trail was tracked down by Department of Viticulture and Enology at University of California, Davis. Researchers there, the most prestigious U.S. research college for wine grapes, determined Charbono was the same grape as Bonarda and mostly likely the same grape under the names of Corbeau, Douce Noire, or Charbonneau.

There is quite a bit of Charbono grown around Calistoga in Napa Valley and some in Mendocino County. Names you might look for include: August Briggs, Turley, Chameleon, Shypoke, Joseph Laurence Shypoke, Robert Foley, Saddleback, Dunnewood, Tofanelli, Fortino, and Consentino Heitz. The wine tends to retail in the high teens to the low $30 range.

“All the winemakers in California who are bottling it have to fight over the grapes,” Sally Ottoson, Pacific Star Winery told “But back in the ‘70’s Inglenook was doing a Charbono, and so was Parducci.

“John Parducci was really a mentor for me. I think Charbono is a very universal wine. It’s not too tannic and not too acidic — a real food friendly wine. People always ask me to describe the grape’s characteristics, but that’s a difficult thing to do because it doesn’t have a distinct flavor profile like other grapes. So I like to say, it’s like an old woman who puts perfume in the same spot every day and it kind of sinks into her skin and you get this essence that evokes memories.”

I met Sally during a press wine trip to Mendocino in January. Her stunning location on the rocky Pacific shore about 12 miles north of Fort Bragg is worth the trip alone. She makes a wide variety of wines and has worked in California wine since 1972.

Her winemaking style is blend-o-holic. “I like to add a little bit of this to a little bit of that,” she said during that visit. “We make a huge effort to make wine fun. Don’t agonize over it. I make wine the old-fashioned way. I make wine in barrels.”

During the same trip I met Maria Martinson of Testa House winery. Her family settled in California in the very early 1900s as Italian immigrants. She had a beautiful Charbono that was not yet released. We tasted the fifth generation winemaker’s juice straight from the barrel.

Finding Charbono might be a challenge in the Midwest. But you can usually find a good Argentinian Bonarda at better wine shops.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Synthetics & Screwcaps: Cork Fights Back

Cork, synthetics, screw caps, and now glass closures can bring wine geeks to a furious debate.

For nearly 300 years cork was the wine closure of choice for the wine industry. But synthetic corks and screw caps have made major inroads in the wine market. Cork’s downfall started in the early 80s when a Swiss researcher discovered TCA – or cork taint. Even cork industry promoters will admit cork taint does exist. But the big debate is whether it’s in a mere fraction of all bottled wine or up to 10 percent of all wines using cork closures.

There is also the phenomenon of cork taint. Too often the cork is blamed for a bad bottle of wine when a host of other factors can cause the wine to taste bad. Another way to look at the argument is how much you care if your $10 bottle of Cabernet is corked? Sure, you are aggravated it has to be poured down the drain but it’s just $10. On the other hand, higher end wines use cork almost exclusively. Last winter I had to pour out a $75 bottle of Pinot Noir I was saving for a special occasion. I was not a happy wino!

“Taint is the most misunderstood and misreported issue in the wine world “contends a cork advocacy group, “The taint typically associated with wine corks is TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole). It’s a harmless but ubiquitous environmental compound that gives wine a must flavor at very low concentrations.”

The advocacy group acknowledges cork taint but points out the contamination can also come from bottling equipment, airborne molds or chlorine-based compounds in wineries and cellars. 100PercentCork has made use of research conducted by Purdue University ‘s Christian Butzke. His research was published in the May/June 2008 Vineyard & Winery Management.

“TCA is no longer a major problem for the U.S. wine industry,” Butzke said. The Purdue Associate professor notes many bagged vegetables can be affected by the same compound but consumers write off any smell to “earthiness.”

But for many wineries and consumers the cork is out of the bottle. Plastic closures were the rage not too many years ago but seem to have fallen out of favor recently. You’ll still find many wines with synthetic corks. I often found them too soft and easily pulled out of the bottle or so hard I had to go to the gym before prying a synthetic opener out. Screw caps offer a great alternative. A screw cap eliminates oxidation but the jury remains out on how well wines will age with a screw cap. Conversely, most wines in a screw cap are at the lower end of the price scale and unlikely to be put down for aging.

I purchased a wonderful and relatively expensive bottle of Pinot during a recent Oregon trip and it had a glass closure. Glass stoppers don’t require an opener and provide a tight seal with a plastic liner. Oxidation is still under testing but appears to hold up over time. It also provides a nice look of sophistication.

Cork has lost market share to these new closure products. But it’s hard to imagine the great wines of the world ever using anything but cork. There is plenty of scientific evidence, not to mention the romance, of popping a cork from a fine bottle of wine with little worry.

For consumers and Grape Sense readers, you are sooner or later going to buy a bad bottle of wine. But your concerns and efforts are better used on selecting a good value bottle than worrying about cork taint.

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