Sealing the deal

Photo by Pat McGrath

Lamarca; Banrock Station; Wolf Blass Red Label; Perrin, Reserve

The world of wine closures is a wonderful thing.

Twenty or 30 years ago, all “good” wine was sealed with a natural cork, and only the cheap and nasty stuff was found with a screw cap. Now, half the wines in the LCBO (that’s a guess) are sealed with a screw cap, and most of the aversion to screw caps has dissipated — or, at least, the people with problems with screw caps have stopped emailing me. I’m very happy not to hear about the “romance” of pulling a cork from a bottle. (Honestly, if that’s your idea of romance …)

Although there are some reservations about using screw caps on wines meant for aging, some producers, especially in Australia and New Zealand, use screw caps for everything — rosés and whites ready to drink as soon as they’re bottled, and reds intended to last a decade and more.

Wolf Blass puts all its still wines, including the luxury range, under screw cap, and iconic Australian winery Penfolds moved in the same direction.

When Penfolds designed its ampoule — the limited production (only 12 were made), hand-blown vessel for one of its most prestigious wines, and with a $168,000 price tag — the aging conditions were likened to those that exist when a wine is sealed with a screw cap. The ampoule is a hermetically sealed glass container, so that the wine ages without any of the air that corks can let in, in microscopic volumes.

If the price of a modest condo seems like a lot to pay for a bottle of wine that ages as if it’s under screw cap, there’s this advantage: because the glass in the ampoule is continuous, there’s no “closure” to degrade, as screw caps and corks do, over time. The closest closure to the Penfolds ampoule is the glass stopper that you sometimes find on German and Austrian wines. The ideal form seems to be glass-on-glass (without a gasket made from another material), but there are concerns about the glass of the stopper grinding on the glass of the lip of the bottle, and producing loose slivers of glass.

The search for the perfect closure goes on, but right now the choices are (natural) cork, cork agglomerates (reconstituted corks), synthetic cork-shaped closures, and screw caps. To a large extent, the decision to use one or another depends upon perceptions of consumer acceptance. Canadians are considered to have positive views of screw caps (like consumers in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and northern Europe), while Americans (and many Europeans) prefer wine sealed with cork.

It’s not clear how far the transition from cork to screw cap will go, but we are certainly among the few societies where you can enjoy a wide range of wines, and enjoy wine every day, and not even own a corkscrew.

Banrock Station Unwooded Chardonnay 2011

This Australian chardonnay is a good bet for everyday drinking, and is a versatile food wine. Look for uncomplicated but consistent flavours and good, fresh acidity. Drink it with salads, lightly seasoned poultry and white fish. 13-per-cent alcohol; $10.95 (455022)

La Marca Prosecco

This prosecco is a cut above many at this price. The flavours are defined and solid right through the palate, the acidity is crisp and clean, and the bubbles are persistent. Sip it on its own or drink it with poultry or pork. 11-per-cent alcohol; $17.95 (287987)

Perrin Réserve Côtes du Rhône 2010

From the ocean of wines from this region, a number stand out. This one delivers vintage after vintage, with concentrated, complex flavours, great acid balance, and easy tannins. Drink it with grilled or roast red meats. 13.5-per-cent alcohol; $15.95 (363457, Vintages Essential).

Wolf Blass ‘Red Label’ Shiraz-Cabernet 2011

From the big Southeast Australian wine zone, this fruit-forward red blend shows concentrated fruit with decent complexity, and a tangy texture, and minimal tannins. It’s a great choice for burgers and spicy sausages. 13-per-cent alcohol; $14.95 (311795)

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