How We Close Our Wine
Posted on Saturday, Dec 20 2014 - 12:00 am
Another question that’s frequently asked in the tasting room: “Do you use real corks or those new-fangled screw-tops?” The answer is “Yes.”
There are real corks nestled in bottles of Noble Pig Pinot Noir, just waiting for their chance to impress you with that satisfying, possibly celebratory “pop” when you open them. Bottles of Noble Pig Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, on the other hand, are sealed with the convenient, picnic-ready screw-tops.
So, what’s going on here?
Real corks – the vast majority of which come from Portugal, by the way – have been associated with fine wine since, well, since forever. But corks can fail, and failure can be pretty ugly. You might not get a satisfying “pop” when you open the bottle, just a deafening silence as the cork disintegrates at the mere sight of a corkscrew. Or everything might look and sound okay, but one whiff tells you all is not right with the world. The dreaded “cork taint,” also known as “corked” wine. This can be the result of a genuine chemical compound that can “infect” corks, or it can mean the cork’s seal was somehow comprimised, and oxygen sailed into the bottle weeks, months, or years ago. Either way, human noses are like bloodhounds in this arena, and the mood is broken when you’re swirling a glass of something with distinct overtones of wet dog. Bon appetit!
Relax, it’s actually quite rare – cork taint happens to somewhere between 2 to 7 percent of wines, depending on which industry survey you’re consulting. And cork manufacturers, taking note that screw-tops and plastic corks have taken a big bite out of their market share in the last decade, have stepped up to the plate. They say that manufacturing upgrades have driven the incidence of cork taint even lower, between 1 to 5 percent. And, with financial backing from the Portuguese government, they’ve launched a big PR campaign to boast about it -- if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area you may have heard the advertising tagline “Any wine worth its grapes deserves natural cork.”
But more and more top winemakers are singing the praises of screw-tops, even if they are singing somewhat quietly. New Zealand winemakers led the charge – they’ve virtually eliminated natural cork in favor of screw-tops, even for their most prized (and expensive) varietals. Many top Oregon winemakers have followed suit.
Screw-tops have an image problem. For decades, in the United States anyway, they’ve been associated with the sort of wine that might come with a free ballpoint pen with every purchase. But it’s a bad rap. The modern screw-tops used to protect quality wines are miles away from the cheap aluminum that sealed Annie Green Springs Peach Creek “wine” back in the day.
There are some simple economics at play, too. Screw tops are simply less expensive per bottle than traditional corks, which are then sealed with a metal foil “capsule” that costs a certain amount per bottle, as well. At Noble Pig, we pass the savings on to you!
The whole “pop the cork” tradition thing seems to fit nicely with white tablecloths and candlelight. At the beach or on the patio, though, a screw-top is just the thing for pouring some chilled Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc (maybe into a Noble Pig Sippy Cup), sealing the bottle back up and tucking it away in the cooler or ice bucket.
Basically, there’s tradition, and there’s convenience. With Noble Pig wines, we offer both.