Champagne seeks cork closure alternative

Posted by Alan Lodge in The Drinks Business 2nd March 2011
http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12416&Itemid=66

Leading Champagne houses are all desperately seeking an adequate substitute for the traditional cork closure, according to Ruinart chef de cave Frédéric Panaïotis. Speaking to the drinks business at a Ruinart Champagne “Interpretation Lunch” in London yesterday, Panaïotis revealed that, so far, crown cap is proving the most realistic alternative.

“Of course we have looked at screwcap, but the problem there is in the disgorging process. You will become a rich man if you can find me a screwcap that can be re-used. So it seems the most realistic option is the crown cap.”

With so much romance and theatre associated with the opening of a bottle of Champagne, what is the urgency to find a new closure?

“You have to have a contingency plan, he said. “If a nuclear bomb was dropped on Spain and Portugal, the world’s supply of cork would be wiped out. What would we do then? It only makes sense that the whole industry is looking for something that can do a job if needed, and everyone has been trying to find the answer for years.”

When pressed on whether switching from cork would severely dilute the theatre of opening a bottle, Panaïotis remarked: “Of course, a loud ‘pop’ is, in my mind, one of the best parts of drinking Champagne.

“A few years back, I might well have been of the opinion that a more understated, quieter sound was more elegant, but my opinion has changed over time.

“Opening a bottle of Champagne should be like satisfying a woman – and you wouldn’t want a satisfied woman to just sigh gently.”

Panaïotis also admitted that potential light damage to Ruinart Blanc de Blancs due to its famously clear, delicate bottle is a constant source of concern to him.

“I am always fighting this battle,” he told db. “We are doing everything possible to protect the wines when they are in storage, even going as far as to wrap them in black bags.

“However, I also know that it is part of our brand heritage and people recognise Ruinart because of our bottle, so to change it would damage the brand.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Panaïotis also predicted a big future for English sparkling wine, saying that it will soon be a stepping-stone into Champagne for many consumers.

“It often takes around 40 years for winemakers to fully understand their terroir,” he said. “Good English sparkling wine has been in production for around 20 years now and there is quite a lot of buzz about its progress in the wine industry.

“Given another 20 years it will be right up there with the best sparkling wines and, although Champagne will still be superior, it will give people another drink to act as a gateway into Champagne.”

Alan Lodge, 02.03.2011

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