In our previous blog, Chris introduced us to a fascinating tasting with the illustrious Chateau Margaux. The tasting focused on the experiments that the house has been conducting on their wines over the last few years. We continue this blog with the results of two more experiments; red wines under different closures and white wines under different closures.
Experiment 3: Closures (Red Wine)
In this and the following experiment Paul Pontallier, winemaker and MD of Chateau Margaux, showed us the results of wines sealed under 3 different closures; natural cork, permeable screwcap and impermeable screwcap. We were left in no uncertain terms that synthetic cork would not be used for Margaux’s wines – “the trials with synthetic corks didn’t last long as the wines quickly oxidized. After two or three years, it was a disaster” explained Pontallier.
You will be acutely aware of the ongoing debate between cork and screwcap and which is better for sealing a bottle of wine. I am sure that this debate will rage on for as long as wine is made, but this tasting gave us the opportunity to see results from one of the top wine producers in the world.
We were tasting a generic red (most likely Margaux’s 3rd or 4th wine) from the 2003 vintage, blind. The wine was not of the greatest quality – all three were suffering from varying degrees of age related illness, but there were definitely differences between the 3 wines.
Wine 1 seemed to show the most age, with plenty of tertiary flavours showing through the fruit. It also seemed to drop off mid palate with very minimal length. Wine 2 seemed to show more prominent fruit character and was not as tired as the first. Wine 3 seemed a little softer on the palate, but was still showing better fruit and structure than the first wine.
After a show of hands to find out the rooms preference, (1st place – Wine 3, 2nd place – Wine 2, 3rd place – Wine 1) the wines were revealed. Wine 1 was the permeable screw cap, wine 2 the natural cork and wine 3 the impermeable screw cap. A slight gasp in the room was heard. Most expected the impermeable screw cap to be the least popular wine, but in fact it was the most popular, and the wine was showing as good, if not better than that sealed under cork.
Pontallier pointed out that although they are trialling these closures on both their first and second wines, it will be many years before a decision is made about changing the closure, if at all. Charles Metcalf asked the all-important question – “if these results continue to show that screw cap gives a better wine than cork, will Chateau Margaux consider changing their closure?” “Why not” Pontallier responded, “It would be hard to resist the temptation. But it is too early [to make that decision] and I will not be the one making it. 10 years is nothing for these wines. We expect these wines to go through a very special evolution for 10, 15, 20 or 30 years…and we are not brave (or stupid) enough to use screwcaps without this knowledge.”
Experiment 4: Closures (White Wine)
In the last of these experiment, we tasted a 2004 second wine under the same 3 closures (cork, impermeable and permeable screw cap). It was interesting to note that the differences between these wines was much more obvious.
Wine 1 showed a lot of aromatic and honeyed notes, along with peach and mango – it was definitely the best wine for drinking now. Wine 2 was much less pronounced with more citrus fruit rather than the stone fruit seen on wine 1. Wine 3 was very lively with great structure and much more typical grapefruit notes, and more balance.
After another popularity contest between the wines (1st place – Wine 1, 2nd place – Wine 3, 3rd place – Wine 2) we were given the details of the wines. Wine 1 turned out to be bottled under cork, wine 2 was bottled under permeable screw cap and wine 3 bottled under impermeable screw cap.
However, even though the majority of the room seemed to prefer wine 1, I wonder whether they were choosing the wine they enjoyed the most now, or if they took into account the fact that these wines should have plenty more life left in them. In that case, I would choose wine 3 as my favourite – it had plenty of varietal character showing, but still had plenty of room for development.
Towards the end of the tasting, Margaux’s Commercial Director, Aurelien Valance was keen to point out one issue with changing from cork to screwcap. He pointed out that one of the main reasons attributed to the change is the issue of ‘corked wines’. However, on a recent tasting trip to California, he was introduced to the opposite issue of ‘screwcapped’ wines.
“I tasted a red Cabernet Sauvignon, and it tasted and smelled like vinegar.” Valance told us. “I said to the winemaker, this bottle must have been open for a month. So he tasted the wine and explained to me that the wine was probably ‘screwcapped’: that during shipping, the bottle had been knocked and the cap liner had moved out of centre, leaving a gap for air to move into the wine. So by changing the closure, we may simply be transferring one problem for another.”
We would love to hear your thoughts on the experiments. How do you read the results? Are screwcaps a realistic option for an estate such as Chateau Margaux? Leave your comments below.