2010 Wine Blog Award Winners!

The August 27 edition of the Wine Blogging Newsletter highlights the 2010 Wine Blog Award winners. Here is the list of winning blogs if you want to sign up for RSS feeds plus details on upcoming social media wine events.

This was the fourth annual public vote for the web’s finest wine bloggers, sponsored by wine glass maker Riedel Crystal, which also makes the trophy, and originally created by wine blogger Tom Wark.

A panel of 11 judges selected the finalists after 30 days of intense blog study and then 1,540 people voted online to pick these winners:

Best Graphics, Photography, & Presentation: Good Grape http://goodgrape.com/
Best Industry / Business Wine Blog: Good Grape http://goodgrape.com/
Best Wine Reviews on a Blog: Bigger Than Your Head http://biggerthanyourhead.net/
Best Single Subject Wine Blog: New York Cork Report http://lennthompson.typepad.com/lenndevours/
Best Winery Blog: Been Doon So Long http://www.beendoonsolong.com/blog/
Best Writing On a Wine Blog: Catavino http://catavino.net/
Best New Wine Blog: Swirl Smell Slurp http://swirlsmellslurp.com/
Best Overall Wine Blog: 1 Wine Dude http://www.1winedude.com/


Comparison takes the fizz out of cava

By Andrew Jefford
Published: August 21 2010 00:40 | Last updated: August 21 2010 00:40

Ambitious sparkling wines the world over are invariably measured against champagne. This is understandable, but unfortunate. It is as if all red wines were expected to model themselves on burgundy, even those made from very different grape varieties in much warmer locations. Viewed through burgundy glasses, a meaty, heady Châteauneuf du Pape would be a failure. On its own terms, of course, it is splendid.

No sparkling wine suffers more from champagne’s beautiful but inappropriate benchmark than Spain’s cava. “We are always the poor brother of champagne,” says the quietly spoken Ton Mata of Recaredo, one of the region’s finest producers. “It is possible to produce great cava, but it has to be great in a very different way from champagne. Sometimes we get a little bit sad because nobody believes that cava can be great.”
Agustí Torelló, of the company of the same name, casts the problem in a different light. “It’s easy to produce a good sparkling wine here. But it’s very difficult to produce a cava with soul.” The lack of recognition leads Agustí Torelló’s sister Lali to call cava “the most undiscovered wine in the world”. A month ago I would have treated these remarks with scepticism. Having tasted the finest wines of these two producers and others, I now realise that my frame of reference needs redrafting.

Tasting aside, perhaps the best way to explain these felicities is by pointing out how different they are from champagne’s attributes. Champagne is made from barely ripe Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in the coolest of vine-ripening climates. Acidity, therefore, is its main structural feature, balanced by the richness and texture of long-ageing on the yeast lees of secondary fermentation, and by the sugar in the wine used for topping up the bottles prior to dispatch. Great cava, by contrast, is made from the Catalan varieties Xarello, Macabeo and Parellada picked on the first cusp of ripeness in the much warmer climate of Penedès, just to the south of Barcelona. Both acidity and sugar are less important than for champagne; indeed many great cavas are entirely unsugared. Long lees ageing, however, is crucial. The end result is layered, textured and full, with an aromatic spectrum (thanks to those local varieties, grown on marine limestone in the Catalonian climate) quite unlike that of any other sparkling wine.

Prominent notes include wild white flowers like hawthorne and elder, as well as fennel, rosemary, ground almonds, chicory, peach, apple and lime, together with a saline, mineral edge. The bubbles seem almost accidental, but have the effect of lifting aromas out of the glass like fluffy, fair-weather cumulus on a warm summer’s day. Indeed, the profoundly Mediterranean character of cava makes its sensual personality seem intensely summery. Many of champagne’s perfections, by contrast, are northern, wintry and interior: cream, toast, brioche, all laminating that icicle-like acidity.

Cava’s origins, like those of Rioja, date back to France’s 19th-century phylloxera epidemic. Bodegas in both regions were sited near railheads, and prospered by supplying crisis-stricken Champagne and Bordeaux respectively. In some respects, cava has made fewer concessions to the modern world than champagne. Recaredo, Torelló, Mestres and Gramona carry out all or much of their secondary fermentation under cork rather than metal beer-bottle caps, and are “disgorged” (having the lees removed) by hand, bottle by bottle. Gramona maintains the tradition, almost lost in Champagne, of using an intricately constructed final liqueur based on older wines and brandies to lend its blends a sumptuous, orchestral character.

From the mid-1980s, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have been authorised for use in cava. Since they are much earlier ripening than the local varieties, it is hard to see them ever producing nuanced sparkling wine in this warm-to-hot location. In my opinion, the greatest cavas are all produced from later-ripening local varieties, and especially the structured, age-worthy Xarello and the fragrant, enchanting Macabeo, which in cava hands appears much more intriguing than it does as its synonym Viura in still white Rioja.

Will recognition come for fine cava? Soon, perhaps, though consumers must be ready to pay champagne prices for it. The current fashion for prosecco (in principle a simpler, younger wine) does at least mean that drinkers are now ready to seek out non-champagne sparkling wines for reasons other than price. All that the cava producers ask is that their finest wines are judged with an open palate.

Andrew Jefford’s Wine Course (Ryland, Peters & Small) was judged ‘Best Drink Book 2010’ at the Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards

Are you a diner from hell? Read these checkpoints to be sure.

Are you a diner from hell? Read these checkpoints to be sure..

The NYCR Team – We Won’t Participate as Judges in Wine Competitions: Here’s Why!

It’s official. We are done judging big, blind, medal-focused wine competitions.

We did not arrive at this position without much thought and discussion. Ultimately, we believe that transparency and clarity are core values that should permeate the wine world — from the creation of wine, to the marketing of wine, to the writing about wine.

Everything that happens in those areas should relate in some way to answering this question: Is this providing more transparency and clarity to the consumer, or less?

We have decided that medal-focused competitions provide less clarity and transparency to the wine consumer. We feel that medals only confuse consumers instead of educating them, and that they provide little real value.

Our position going forward will be simple: The editors and writers at the New York Cork Report will not accept invitations to judge wines at large-scale, blind-tasting events with the goal to hand out “medals” to “winning” wineries.

We want to explain, and — this is vitally important — we mean no disrespect.

The vast, vast majority of competition creators, organizers and judges perform their roles with the best of intentions. Often, we find that the wines we think are best are the ones that win top honors. Anthony Road Wine Company’s 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling winning the Governor’s Cup is one example).

But that cannot and does not change the reality: There are so many medal-awarding competitions that the events have lost any sense of meaning to the average consumer, and even wine-loving consumers can’t possibly know the significance of a single bronze or silver or gold medal awarded at the many, many events. Furthermore, the very act of blind judging a wide range of wines should be viewed as a parlor game and not some official declaration of merit.

Good intentions give way to nebulous marketing
We can’t stress this enough: The organizers of wine competitions are people who constantly impress us with their enthusiasm and event planning. Collectively, we have judged at many events and have been invited to judge at many more. We admire the goal of wading through oceans of wine to sort out the very best for consumers.

The problems with judging will be addressed below.

Even the medal winners can’t explain much about the meaning of such an award. Evan recently stopped by a Finger Lakes tasting room that was drowning in medals. He was told, “Our 2006 Merlot won Silver at the So-and-So Wine Competition!” He asked the staff to explain what that meant. “Well, it probably means that the judges liked our wine very much!” they replied. He asked who the judges were. They didn’t know. He asked how many wines, by percentage, got at least a silver medal. “Oh, I don’t think it’s very many,” came one reply.

Sadly, that’s wrong, by almost any measure.

On Long Island, Lenn has been similarly regaled by tasting room staffers with stories of medals awarded — often incorrectly. He’s up on some of these things, so he often knows that they are wrong when they tell him that their riesling won gold but it actually won bronze. The average person off the street can’t possibly know; there are too many medals from too many competitions. Ultimately these medals and discussions of them have become nothing more than white noise, like static on your television.

Medals have almost no defined meaning that the wineries themselves can even explain, let alone their consumers. Ask a consumer what a medal means — really, grab a customer in a tasting room — and there’s almost no chance they’ll be able to offer anything close to an answer describing where it comes from and why the judges awarded it.

It seems that wineries simply hope the use of medals will make their bottles more attractive. We understand the impulse. The business of wine is a competitive one, and discretionary dollars are being held tightly. But ultimately a state that is attempting to attain world-class status does itself a disservice with an over-reliance on meaningless handouts.

We can promise that almost every tasting room customer would be shocked to find out that often the standard for getting at least a bronze medal is simply to create a wine that is not mortally flawed. That’s it. That’s the baseline.

The first problem with judging: Subjectivity
At Evan’s first wine judging competition, a huge annual event that we won’t name, he remembers a debate over a flight of pinot noir. One judge refused to award a particular wine a gold medal because, in his words, “There is plenty of fruit but not nearly enough supporting oak.” Evan, understandably, was stunned. A judge demanding more oak? What next?

He didn’t have to wait long to find out. During the next flight, a judge detected a whiff of Brettanomyces in one of the wines. She decided it was a nice addition to the wine, adding character. The judge to Evan’s right was offended to the point of near-insanity. “Brett is a FLAW,” the judge declared. “And a flawed wine wins no medal.” The other judge persisted, arguing that it should be a gold medal wine. Evan thought he was about to witness a fistfight.

How can you or anyone else tell a judge how to evaluate wines? The beauty of wines is that we have the opportunity to decide for ourselves what makes a wine special. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t clearly discernible qualities and flaws. But if I love oak and over-extraction in, say, cabernet sauvignon, and you appreciate a more restrained approach, which one of us is right? If I think the best wines are indicative of where they were made, whereas you believe the best wines are hedonistic missiles, place-be-damned, who’s correct?

If you sit in on a judge’s panel at just about any wine competition, get ready to hear the same conversations. And then ask yourself how anyone can possibly hand out medals when it’s over, as if one wine correctly identified that 7×4=28.

The second problem with judging: Blind tasting
Everyone on the NYCR team has come to love blind tasting. It is great fun. It is also a bit like a sporting event or game, not befitting the anointing of medals that ostensibly carry serious value.

There is perhaps no wine more fitting to explain this problem than Finger Lakes riesling. The best winemakers in the Finger Lakes often remind their customers that riesling is a “food wine.” It certainly is. It is versatile, ranging from dry to sweet, and pairs harmoniously with a range of dishes. Winemakers have such things in mind when crafting their products. But they are not producing rieslings designed to impress judges in sterile, blind-tasting settings.

Now try to imagine tasting dozens and dozens of these wines with hardly a bite to eat. The acids are ripping at your mouth, and in the sweeter flights the sugars seem like a welcome respite. In the cabernet flight, there is no juicy steak to accompany a rich wine, and the judges are left to consider them bereft of that partnering.

But most importantly, blind judging robs the evaluators of the most significant parts of the wine — its context.

Tell a judge he’s drinking cabernet, and he’ll immediately try to lock in and ascertain the country of origin, then the region and perhaps sub-appellation. But the mind is a funny thing. Instead of simply enjoying (or not) the wine, and thinking about it individually, the judge begins to add context where there is none provided. How did the other wines in the flight taste in comparison? What might that say about this wine? When was the last time I tasted a wine like this one? Where was it from? Should I allow myself to believe this is Bordeaux, when I’ll feel awfully silly when I’m told it’s from somewhere else?

Delving deeper, we find that judging a wine that is simply known as cabernet sauvignon is extremely constricting. We don’t want a Napa cab to taste like a Bordeaux. We expect Chile to turn out something else entirely. If we’re tasting a Bordeaux cabernet that tastes like Napa, we’re bound to be disappointed. But tasting blind, we might convince myself it’s from somewhere else, mistaking place and winemaker intention. Whoops.

We’ve had judges tell us that we should forget about figuring out where a wine is from and simply taste it to see if we like it. Fair enough. But in that one statement, we see exactly why wine has become so homogeneous, so dangerously banal. Judges are not required to give a damn about a wine’s sense of place.

We find it vital. With no standard, how can we expect judging to be consistent?

Ah, but see: It’s not consistent. Not even a little.

There is ample evidence that judging is like throwing darts

When Robert T. Hodgson set out to research the reliability of judging, many of us suspected he would find that judging is inconsistent. Instead, he found that medals are awarded in a fashion that almost appears to be random. Hodgson wrote, “It is reasonable to predict that any wine earning any medal could in another competition earn any other medal, or none at all.” Indeed, he found hundreds of examples of wines that earned gold medals in one competition and no medal at all in another.

Put another way: If you make a competent wine, you can enter enough competitions and that wine will almost certainly win gold eventually.

No study is perfect, but we suspected that after this study was released, drastic changes would hit the wine judging circuit. We have yet to see any. Hodgson stated that his goal was to provide some measure of judging reliability to help these competitions improve. We see the result being supportive of the idea that these competitions ought not exist at all. After all, judging in mass competitions is putting wine into just about the least most suitable place for good evaluation and enjoyment.

And for wineries that might protest, it should be said that the little study that has been done only indicates that tasting room customers really don’t care much about medals. Why should they? As we’ve already explained, they don’t know what the medals mean.

Clarity? Consumers don’t know which wineries entered a particular competition and which didn’t, they don’t know the judges and what the judges are looking for, they don’t know how many medals were awarded, and they don’t know what a medal is supposed to signify.

That should say everything.

Our decision, and our call for others to join us
In the future we will politely decline invitations to judge at these events. That does not mean we won’t participate in wine seminars, conferences, etc. This is simply about mass judging. The wine competition circuit has become quite an industry itself, but there has to be a good explanation for the purpose it serves.

We ask our colleagues to do one of two things: Pledge to join us in this decision, or provide a suitable answer for the problems we’ve outlined above. We’re more than willing to listen, and to change our minds if it can be proven that these competitions help the consumer.

But right now, we’re sitting them out. – The NYCR Team

Put a cork in it: the environmental cost of the screw cap

By Lucy Siegle
The Observer Features Sun 22 Aug 2010 00:07 BST

In recent years the cork has been steadily usurped by cleaner, more convenient screw caps. But the environmental impact of this social shift is massive. Now the traditional cork growers are fighting back. But have they left it too late?

There is a strong Asterix vibe to the annual cork oak harvest of the Alentejo in Portugal. Deep into one of the 350 remaining cork oak forests (in my case Herdade dos Fidalgos, near Lisbon) sometime between June and August you’ll suddenly come across a team of about 20 men, ranging in ages from 16 to 70, striking huge twisted trees with axes. Then, with a sensitivity you would not associate with an axe, they prise the juicy bark from the tree and it is levered from the trunk in great, satisfying pieces. From the base, right up to the beginning of the branches, it is peeled away to reveal the oak’s red, nude surface underneath.

When the tree is completely harvested, the axeman takes a swig from his water barrel and moves on to the next. Periodically, a truck comes to collect the pieces of cork and take them to nearby sheds where they will be weathered for months before being processed. The truck is the only obvious exception to a process that hasn’t changed since the 18th century, when montados (open cork oak woodlands) and forests here in Portugal, in southern Spain, Morocco, Algeria and Turkey began to be exploited commercially to produce wine corks. A white number is painted on the tree. It will be nine years before it’s disturbed again.

“You need to be very skilled so that you can be sensitive with the axe,” says Daniel Pereira, who at 26 is one of the younger harvesters. He’s a jovial type and laughs as he talks. “Some of these trees are more than 100 years old. I don’t want to be the one to damage them.
“I spent four years learning to harvest. This is the job everyone wants to do. It’s very well paid.” Pereira turns serious: “There is nothing like cork.”
And there really isn’t. For starters, cork is the only tree bark that doesn’t contain lengthwise fibres, which is why you can (sensitively) chop into it with an axe and return nine years later for a repeat performance. Pliny the Elder gave the cork oak a mention in his Naturalis Historia: his brethren used cork for their sandals, and corks as wine bottle stoppers were found in amphorae at Pompei. A cork oak can live for more than 200 years.

The best of the pieces harvested here, the thickest and smoothest cork, will be punched into wine corks for some of the finest vintages from the best wineries on earth. The other pieces will provide granules for the more workaday wines – the type I’m more familiar with. It’s as if globalisation never happened: instead of outsourced, sub-contracted workers slaving away for a pittance, here we have local men, happily swinging axes in the depths of the forest near to where their families have often lived for generations.

Pereira and his colleagues can harvest 10 large trees or 20-30 medium-sized trees in a day. I ask if the workers are unionised (a standard ethical-sounding question when you’re standing idly by trying to justify people working very hard). The boss laughs: “These guys don’t really need a union. Their jobs are well paid.” For each day they will earn around €120. In a rural area of big unemployment that’s three months of big bucks that sustains them through smaller repair and farming jobs during the rest of the year.

The cork oak’s ecological contribution is just as munificent. The trees naturally occur in mixed-plant woodlands – the Rolls-Royce of forestry – and their root systems are excellent water regulators in this semi-arid landscape. They also anchor the soil and offer shade to the biodiverse species. According to a WWF report, the remaining 108,000 hectares of Portuguese cork oak forests are instrumental in preventing this region from turning into a dustbowl. Each tree sustains 100 species; it is pretty much the only place in which the rare short-toed eagle and extremely rare Iberian lynx will consider living. It is a living, breathing European ecosystem and effective carbon sink (conservative estimates say the cork forests sequester 10m tonnes of CO2 every year) and really, how many of these do we have knocking about?

But this magic forest is in the grip of an acrimonious and long-running debate. It rests on a consumer decision to which most of us will have given little thought: last time you bought a bottle of wine did it have a natural cork, a plastic stopper or a screw cap (increasingly likely from a UK supermarket, the biggest retailers of wine with 75% of the wine retail market)? Did you even notice?

It might seem a prosaic choice, but when you include the cork industry, the environmentalists, the screw cap “innovators”, the wine writers and makers, the debate takes on a tone of operatic intensity. Natural cork has seen its pre-eminence as a wine bottle stopper kicked into touch by synthetic upstarts including plastic corks and screw caps. In the past 15 years the market share of “nature’s nearly perfect product”, as American writer George Taber has described it, has declined from 90% to just over 70%. The value of cork is half what it was a decade ago, there are more than 30 synthetic cork producers worldwide and 85% of Australian wine and 45% of New Zealand’s are now under screw caps.

It would be premature to pronounce the death of the wine cork, yet it has already been done. In 2002 a solemn trumpet solo at New York’s Grand Central Station announced the arrival of a hearse, from which funeral directors lifted a casket containing “Thierry Bouchon” – a dummy made of cork (tire-bouchon is French for corkscrew). The world-renowned wine writer Jancis Robinson delivered a eulogy which began, “Oh Cork. Oh Cork. Oh Corky, Corky Cork. How we shall miss thy cylindrical barky majesty…” The man behind this elaborate stunt – a pastiche of a scene from Joris-Karl Huysmans’s late-19th-century novel A Rebours (Against the Grain) – was Randall Grahm, founder of California’s Bonny Doon winery. “I didn’t quite anticipate it would mark such a flash point,” says Grahm.

The Portuguese cork industry was not laughing. It’s unlikely most witnesses of the stunt or readers of the widespread press coverage got Grahm’s obscure literary joke, but they did get that he’d put 80,000 cases of his Cai de Solo wine in screw-capped bottles. This was the largest US bottling to date of a fine wine – before this, screw-capped fine wine was an oxymoron. As Robinson announced in the course of the eulogy: “The great big supertanker SS Screw Cap has set sail and there will be no turning back.”

There had been serious provocation. The wine industry had one very specific enemy: cork taint. “It was completely frustration with cork taint that led me, in 1996, to work with synthetic closures for a few of our wines,” Grahm tells me. “What began out of frustration – the unreliability of cork and the non-performance of synthetic closures – led me to screw caps. Having used them now for almost 10 years, I have been so pleased with how they work that it is very difficult for me to imagine going back to cork.”

Cork taint is the tragic (at least to an oenophile) point at which a cork becomes contaminated with 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA. Discovered by a Swiss researcher in 1981 who detected TCA in a $400 bottle of wine, it’s described as smelling like a cross between mouldy newspapers and old socks. Most of us can’t detect it until it goes above 6ppt (parts per trillion), but expert noses are thought to sense it below 2ppt.
However, even the top olfactory glands aren’t infallible. A team of professional sniffers can apparently only sniff 200 corks in one siting, still needing a break every 50 corks or so. As “synthetic closures” made a play for the hearts and minds (and noses) of the wineries, experts and finally consumers, some 10-25% of cork was rumoured to be tainted. But the “fat and arrogant” (Taber again) monopolistic Portuguese cork industry that produced 3bn wine stoppers every year did itself no favours. According to Robinson: “If the cork industry had taken the problem seriously from the start and had cultivated better relations with the wine industry, cleaning up its act years before it did, it would not have lost so much business.”

“It is true we made it easy for the screw caps,” says Claudio de Jesus, dolefully. The 46-year-old marketing director of Amorim, in Portugal – a leading global cork producer – is one of the new guard. In 2001 he left his job as a Wall Street trader to return to his native Portugal and wrote to Amorim offering to help to engineer a renaissance.
As luck would have it his arrival coincided with António Amorim, the fourth generation of the family firm, becoming CEO. He had a different attitude. “The industry had made life too cosy for the screw cap,” says De Jesus. “We paid a heavy price. The cork industry had a credibility problem and there was only one way to repair it: tell the market what you’re doing and ask it to come and check.”

The two set out to eradicate TCA in cork. They spent big money on chambers to boil and wash cork, on a laboratory with gas chromatography machines – the same as those used in the forensic TV drama CSI – to trace and find any TCA offenders, and became intent on removing the taint of cork taint. They seem to have had some success; the oenologist Christopher Butzke, who was once very down on cork, now says it has achieved a performance rate of 99% and that TCA is no longer a big issue for either wine makers or consumers.

De Jesus holds a cork up to the light between his finger and thumb. It’s one of the upscale ones, punched from a single piece of cork that will end up in a bottle of fine wine. He’s moved on from extolling the new scientific precision of cork production to the innate and superior quality of nature. “Whether it’s beans, a horse, a cork – you recognise quality in nature, right?”
I wonder why they don’t secure the future of the forests by pushing the diversified uses of cork as opposed to battling for wine cork business – Stella McCartney makes shoes from it, there’s a guy doing cycle helmets, BP even took a look at it during the early days of the Fresh Kills crisis to see if there were ways of expanding its potential to suck up disastrous oil spills. “Cork has many applications,” says De Jesus. “It’s an amazing substance, but wine corks are what we do. Each cork oak stopper has 800m breathing cells, and an elastic memory that tries to expand. Man-made technology cannot replicate that.” His lip curls slightly. “Château Margaux became great with a cork in it.”

However the British consumer seems to have developed a taste for a cork-free lifestyle. Tesco led the way: 40% of all Tesco-sold wines are now screw caps and you can add to that another 15-20% using synthetic or “technical corks” (ie man-made). Simon Waller of Supreme Corq, one of the biggest producers of synthetic corks, tells me that “there has never been a better time to be a wine consumer: techniques shared, best practice, screw-cap technology and 10% over-supply meaning low prices.”

I suppose we could drink and be merry, but what about those forests? “Increasingly we are taking account of environmental issues in all our purchasing decisions,” says Andy Gale, technical manager of Tesco beers, wines and spirits. “But cork, despite the improvements made, is still an imperfect closure.”
Jancis Robinson confesses to being “probably more of a nag about sustainability than most wine writers, having campaigned against heavy bottles [arguing their excess materials and transport costs are far from eco-friendly] and certainly this argument is for me one of the most compelling in favour of natural cork.” But even she adds: “It never did make sense to have wine the only product in supermarkets that needed a special implement to open. I can’t see mass-market consumers returning to corkscrews for the sake of the Alentejo ecosystem.”

That’s a shame. The 2010 cork oak harvest has now come to an end. There’s a track at Herdade Dos Fidalgos where the future is viscerally played out. On one side are the cork oaks that take 80 years to reach their first harvest, their canopies stretching over smaller plants. On the other side there’s a fast-growing eucalyptus plantation presiding over some very dry soil. The eucalyptus will be ready to be sold for the voracious pulp and paper market in a matter of months. If the market drops further for cork, the decision for the landowner becomes a no-brainer. They plant fast-growing eucalyptus, ecosystem be damned. Common-sense sustainability dictates that there’s a unique and relatively local ecosystem here that needs our support. Besides, the sound of a real cork leaving the bottle is a rare bacchanalian way to do the right thing.

To cap it all: the options!

Natural cork: Cork has more than 400 years’ experience in stopping wine bottles but it is also charged with spoiling 3-5% of global wine. Spanish law now dictates that wineries in 11 regions must use natural cork to receive a DO (Denominacion de Origen) quality status. This won’t do much to counter charges of a southern European monopoly.

Screw cap: Once the surest way to get yourself barred from the dinner-party circuit, screw-caps are now billed as the solution to both cork taint and the less-technical issue of “where’s the bloody corkscrew?”. Guala Closures, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers, claims sales are growing at half a billion a year, and screw-caps are getting clever with plastic filters and layers to deliver oxygen to maturing wines.
The plastic stopper: Entrepreneur Dennis Burns, a producer of pro-tech hockey helmets in the US, decided to use a similar polyethylene composite to make a synthetic wine “cork” with no chance of taint. Burns’s Supreme Corq is one of the biggest of the 30 synthetic cork producers worldwide. Its rival, Nomacorc, produced 1.4m plastic corks last year – enough to circle the earth 1.33 times. The synthetic boys don’t buy cork’s ecological superiority: “Many are just cork granules and dust bonded with solvents,” says Simon Waller of Supreme Corq. “They are no more biodegradable than our product.”

The zork: It’s new(ish) and loud and hails from New Zealand. The Zork (a hybrid of “zero” and “cork”) is a low-density plastic closure that boasts sophisticated tamper-evident design and inner foil oxygen barriers. The innovation will need to be more sophisticated than the colour – bright pink or red, which may put off serious wine drinkers. It’s gaining popularity in US wine bars for by-the-glass fizz.

News from the LCBO

Graham Beck Brut Rosé NV South Africa 11.5%
Pinot Noir/Chard $15-20 LCBO

Graham Beck died just a few weeks back. Born in 1929 he was a revolutionary in South Africa and can definitely be credited with moving the wine industry forward in that country. At the LCBO this bottle was just so beautiful I couldn’t resist – especially after reading it’s made in the traditional method with the second fermentation in the bottle. Light raspberry and nuts on the nose but when it warms up you can smell the trademark South African ash! I like it a lot..but then again it’s rare I don’t like something without bubbles. Think grilled tuna. Fun, summery, light – totally decent.

Sauvignon blanc has its place

Sauvignon blanc has its place.

Noisy Oysters or MCC? | Pendock Uncorked

Noisy Oysters or MCC? | Pendock Uncorked.

Franschhoek Uncorked

Make your way to the picturesque Franschhoek Wine Valley, over the weekend of 4 and 5 September, for the unique spring wine meander, Franschhoek Uncorked. This multi-faceted celebration takes place on satellite farms throughout the Valley, and affords award-winning wineries – as well as the smaller hidden gems – the opportunity to ‘bloom’ as they showcase new vintages and releases, coinciding with the onset of spring.

Highly acclaimed wineries, participating in this much loved event include Allée Bleue, Boekenhoutskloof, Cabrière, Solms-Delta, Graham Beck Wines, Grande Provence, La Motte, Anthonij Rupert Wines, Môreson, Rickety Bridge, Vrede en Lust and Plaisir de Merle. Also included in the line up are some of Franschhoek’s smaller gems such as Dieu Donné, Franschhoek Cellars, GlenWood Wines, La Chataigne, Lynx Wines, La Petite Ferme, Topiary Wines and Maison. In addition select wineries will keep their visitors entertained with a range of events, whilst enjoying their fine wines.

Take in the picturesque scenery while soaking in country hospitality at its best. Wander along leisurely from farm to farm, enjoying some of live entertainment on show while enjoying fine wines and an array of delectable treats; a taste of what you can expect from South Africa’s gourmet capital.

Some of the not-to-be missed highlights at this year’s festival include: • As part of their wine tasting experience, Rickety Bridge will be offering visitors an array of delectable hot and cold tapas throughout the weekend, as well as picnics (weather permitting), live entertainment, boules in the vines and fun farm rides on their vintage Dodge truck for the kids.

• Coinciding with the opening of their new Pierneef à La Motte Restaurant, visitors to La Motte can experience a unique presentation of traditional cooking – Cape Winelands Cuisine – inspired by centuries of creativity in food. Booking is essential. Added to the mix is their new Farm Shop, perfect for wine sales, wine-related gifts and an irresistible selection of fresh, farm baked bread. The new La Motte Museum features historic aspects of the Rupert family and La Motte itself, with a room devoted to the art of Jacob Hendrik Pierneef.

• Stop over at Vrede & Lust for a unique French laundry experience, which includes a butler welcoming you at the door, a shoe cleaning service and French music provided by an accordion player. A selection of their new release wines as well as sumptuous treats, such as freshly baked breads, deep fried olives and cheeses, will also be on offer.

• It’s Fiesta time at Lynx Wines. Raised in Spain, winemaker, Dieter Sellmeyer, invites you to a fun filled weekend of tapas galore, live Spanish guitar, as well as lessons on drinking out of a traditional Spanish Porròn (leather pouch).

• At the picturesque and historic L’Ormarins – home to Anthonij Rupert Wines, visitors will experience a unique combination of both fine wine and vintage cars. Sample their new wine releases of Protea and Terra del Capo (an Italian cultivar). Classic car enthusiasts can view the extensive range of vintage cars on display, while wine connoisseurs can get a sneak peek at their gravity fed cellar and experience the esteemed Anthonij Rupert Wines at the tutored tastings.

• Master the craft of wine blending at Topiary Wines, presented by winemaker, Chris Albrecht. Relax on the lawn while enjoying live entertainment by Jo Martin, and nibbling on something from the food stall.

• GlenWood Wines invites you to join them for an unforgettable gourmet food and wine pairing experience. Included in the lineup is Bouillabaisse soup, chicken curry and Crêpe Suzettes, presented and prepared by well known culinary couple, Camil and Ingrid Haas, formerly proprietors of the Bouillabaisse Restaurant.

• Visitors to Môreson won’t be disappointed as the festival marks the official opening weekend of the Exotic Plant Company, with discounted prices on fresh-cut flowers and orchids. The food-and-wine market offers a selection of Môreson wines, including a new release from the Miss Molly range, as well as an array of fresh, local, organic produce.

• For music-lovers, there are live music extravaganzas which cater for all tastes, ranging from jazz- and blues bands to French bistro genres to fiesta Española flamenco.

An access card system will be implemented to ensure the successful running of Franschhoek Uncorked. The access cards, available directly from participating wineries on the day or through Computicket, at R80.00 each, includes a tasting glass and free wine tasting at participating wineries for the duration of the event.

Contact Winelands Experience, on 021 876 4204, for a professional shuttle service. The Franschhoek Wine Valley supports responsible drinking and driving.

So, with something for everyone, make a weekend of your visit, taking full advantage of the various accommodation packages on offer. Come and indulge yourself as you witness the country’s gourmet capital blossom and come alive.

For more information about the festival, please contact: Darielle Robertson Events Manager: Franschhoek Wine Valley Tel: 021 876 2861 Email: events@franschhoek.org.za

Sparkling etiquette

Article By: Bryony Whitehead

Champagne, sparkling wine, Methode Cap Classique, whatever your preference, drinking bubbly is associated with good times and celebration, and since it’s nearing that time of the year when we dust the fluted glasses off, and put on our party hats, it’s worth going over those finer details for quaffing a glass or two of sparkling.

What to choose?

With the large choice of sparkling wines lined up on the retail shelves these days, the natural thing for anyone to do is to stick to what you know. And while it’s certainly good to have favourites, there are a few great local sparkling wines worth popping the cork over. Look out for names like Krone, Simonsig and Pongraz Bruts to name only a few. These three are usually well-priced and are all fantastic wines.

Know your MCCs

While these names may be slightly more expensive, consider that you are paying for a genuine sparkling wine. This means the wines go through a long process requiring two fermentations and ageing to ensure the wine not only bubbles, but is also crystal clear. Developed in Champagne, France, in the 18th Century, this method is known as Methode Cap Classique or MCC in South Africa. Alternatives to MCC or Champagne are artificially carbonated.

Ice cold

Once you’ve chosen your wine, slip it into the fridge overnight to ensure that it’s well-chilled and ready to enjoy. If you want to drink it on the same day, try popping it into the freezer for an hour or so. Mind you, don’t forget it there, as freezing the bubbly can ruin it.

Open with care

Unless you are as ecstatic as Michael Schumacher after winning a Formula 1 race, don’t shake the bottle. Or pop the cork. Opening a bottle of sparkling is similar to arriving at a party: do it gracefully. Ease the cork out of the bottle and try to avoid the loud pop. You should hear a hiss as the cork is worked out of the bottle. This is so that you keep all those pretty little bubbles inside the wine for you to enjoy, rather than forcing them out all in one go. Of course, that’s only if you’re aiming to quaff at a specially chosen bottle or two.

Do go ahead and pop the cork if you’re into the effect it has on a good party.


The next important step in sparkling wine etiquette is how to get sparkling wine into a glass. A lot trickier than it seems. Three clever tips to pouring a perfect glass of bubbly every time are these:

Easy does it. Pour a smidgen of the wine into the bottom of the glass first, wait for the initial fizzy head to bubble down, and then pour the rest.

Don’t tilt the glass. Rather, hold it upright, or let it stand on a table and pour the wine directly into it. The swirl and turbulence of a tilted glass can cause the wine to bubble up and over.

Don’t over-fill the glass. It’s a sure way to send all that precious liquid cascading over the edges of the glass. Think ‘less is more’ when filling a glass with wine. And with a bottle of bubbly, it’s always better to go back for a refill from a chilled bottle than to sit with the wine getting warm in your glass.
Fluted glasses

They look good. Really, they do. But seriously, this long-stemmed wine glass was developed for two more reasons. Firstly, that long stem offers a place for you to grip the glass without warming that perfectly chilled wine. It’s one of those ingenious inventions that is right up there with the wheel and fire. Secondly, the width of the glass helps the sparkling wine to retain its sparkle as it has a smaller area from which to escape compared to a wider rim.

FAST FACT: A fluted glass should have a pin-prick engraved inside it from which the bubbles can stream. This is to create that steady, but delicate, column of bubbles that trickle up to the top of the glass. Just like diamonds.

When to mix

Any time is a good time to mix really, but bear in mind that the standard ‘champagne and orange juice’ is probably not a good idea for that vintage bottle of genuine sparkling wine. Rather, look at mixing your chosen ‘everyday’ champers – whether it is carbonated or MCC.

Sparkling wine offers a great way to punctuate a celebration with a special toast and with a bit of etiquette, it can turn a special occasion into that memorable event. Cheers!