Popping the Cork on the Screwcap Debate

Popping the Cork on the Screwcap Debate

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 7th, 2012

The debate over corks and wine is causing controversy once again, proving its unique ability to be an issue of contention for the foreseeable future. Much ballyhoo has been raised by the cork industry recently regarding Christian Canute, the owner of Rusden Winery in the Barossa Valley, and his decision  to forswear screwcaps in favor of corks (despite the fact that he only used screwcaps for one of the ten wines in his portfolio and even that was only for a few vintages).

Top: 1999 Clare Valley semillon, 28 months after bottling. Bottom: After 125 months

In other news, UC Davis and PlumpJack Winery recently announced the commencement of a two year study that will attempt to determine, once and for all, how different closures affect the ability of wines to age. (Read more about the study here). This research is taking place despite the fact that the Australian Wine and Research Institute (AWRI) has been involved in a similar project for more than a decade. That study, analyzing 14 different types of closures, is in the process of concluding that screwcaps are superior when compared to other types of seals. Looking at the picture above (courtesy of Old Bridge Cellars), I don’t think I would want any of the wines on the right side of the picture. And by the way, the screwcap bottles are on the left. (more…)

2011 Napa Vintage Preview with a Glance Back at California Futures

2011 Napa Vintage Preview with a Glance Back at California Futures

Post by Chuck Hayward | July 24th, 2012

California Cabernet Society’s Annual Barrel Tasting

The annual Bordeaux futures campaign attracts unparalleled attention, and there are many who feel the hoopla that surrounds it is undeserved. But it cannot be denied that en primeur focuses the attention of critics and merchants across the globe on the qualities of the vintage at hand. Interestingly, the lack of a futures program for California wines means they collectively escape the spotlight that Bordeaux wines enjoy (or rather endure, in the case of the 2011s). Instead, information about the latest vintage of California wines tends to come out bit by bit from those few critics who actually have access to winemakers and their cellars. However, it wasn’t always that way…


As the market for California cabernet became more serious in the mid-1980s, many wineries began to emulate the way Bordeaux presented new vintages to the press and the market. Recognizing that consumers were becoming increasingly familiar with the en primeur system for Bordeaux, and at the same time taking advantage of Robert Parker’s increasing influence in the California cabernet segment of the wine industry, MacArthur Beverages, a Washington D.C. retailer, held the first ever California futures tasting for their clients in 1985. Over the next few years, Parker attended the event as well and published his assessments of the unfinished wines while also offering practical advice to consumers interested in purchasing domestic wine futures. (more…)

No One-Trick Pony: Recapturing Rusticity at Pontet-Canet

No One-Trick Pony: Recapturing Rusticity at Pontet-Canet

Post by Roland Hankerson | April 2nd, 2012

The cool breeze of a spring day in Bordeaux carries with it wisps of dust, which settle between the forty-year-old vines that line the gravelly vineyard of Pontet-CanetThe hoofs of horses drawing plows kicked up the dust, as they are charged with turning the earth on this stately property. The “old ways” of producing classic Bordeaux are new again in a vineyard accustomed to producing world class wine of power and elegance in a manner that preserves its piece of earth with great care.

Brittany horses cultivate the vines of Pontet-Canet

Alfred Tesseron, proprietor of Pontet-Canet, is on a quest to provide a world class wine that adheres to his environmental ethics. He turns to his long-time winemaker, Jean-Michel Comme, (a 22-year veteran of the estate) to not only make the wine, but also head a program of certified organic and biodynamic viticulture on the property. No expense has been spared on this project, and Jean-Michel was handed complete autonomy with which to transform the vineyard over the course of several patient years. By now, he has transformed vineyard operations in a manner that allows the grapes to express in his words, “…the true identity of themselves in terroir while caring for the future of the earth the grapes come from.” (more…)

About me: Who is Mike Supple?

On the surface, a BA in French Studies from a small university seems largely useless. Until I ended up on a small vineyard in St-Emilion with shears in my hands racing an impending storm, I would have agreed. While the link between studying French literature at the Sorbonne getting my hands dirty in St-Emilion limestone and sand might not be immediately clear, it is the path of education that led me there and my continued interest in studying the why of it all that keeps me going. Although I have been in various aspects of the wine industry (restaurant, retail, import and wholesale), and I had been exposed to great wines long before that harvest in Bordeaux, it was that one adventure that cemented my love for wine.

For me drinking wine is about enjoying what is in the bottle to the fullest extent, and that starts with the history. Knowing where a wine came from, who had their hands in the making of it and what the future might hold all adds a dimension. Of course how the wine smells and tastes in the end is by far the most important factor, but other influences such as food pairing and the company sharing the wine matter too. Drinking wine should be fun, and for me food and friends contribute to that greatly. When I drink wine I am searching for the ultimate experience in the moment.

Another key factor for me – that often gets raised eyebrows or scoffs – is the glassware. People can argue the merits of shape all they want; for me, it makes a big difference. I never wash my glasses with soap either. Lead crystal is porous, and if soap seeps in once every wine thereafter will be forever tainted. Hot water, steam, and a lint free cloth do the trick. It is the little details that really bring out the true cork dork (wine geek, wine snob; take your pick, we’ve heard them all). Why bother? When I open a bottle I don’t care about what score some critic gave it; beginning with the first swirl of the glass, I care about what I am getting from the wine, because I am drinking for me.

I began making notes when I drank wine as a reference method for myself. With so many wines from all over the world, I wanted to be able to better understand what it was that intrigued me about wine, and why I enjoyed certain wines more than others. Whether in a formal dégustation or at home with friends, I still make notes for myself on every wine I taste. If my notes can help me pick a great wine the next time I am looking for something new then it is all worthwhile.

On that note, my 1998 Deutz Blanc de Blancs should be just about at the right temperature now, so it is time to put away the computer and indulge in some elegant, rich, honeyed bubbles.