Let’s Twist Again
Do you remember that song? If you do you, must be over A Certain Age. It was
made famous back in 1961 by Chubby Checker as I recall. The twist may have
long since disappeared but some things just don’t go away. One of them is
the argument about whether wine bottles should have traditional corks,
artificial corks or no corks at all. The alternative to cork - the twistable
screw cap - is a metal thing that fits on the neck of the bottle and usually
has a metal skirt to resemble the traditional foil. Inside it, there’s a
layer of plastic, rubber, or other material which creates a seal with the
top of the bottle. It’s better than cork at keeping the air out.
As to those very few wines that need twenty or thirty years of ageing to be
at their best, well, that’s a different matter. Cork, with a centuries-old
tradition is usually considered ideal for that purpose. But is it? For
generations, it’s been assumed that that the slow intake of oxygen through a
cork plays a vital role in ageing a wine. But more recently, some wine
experts have argued that if the cork is perfect, the incoming oxygen is
virtually zero, and that any oxygen is detrimental to the wine. No
one really seems to know for sure.
Cork can be unreliable. It’s been estimated that 2% of all bottles of wine
are damaged by cork taint (“corked”) and an even greater percentage through
oxidation. Wine becomes “corked” when the cork is infected with a fungus
that produces a chemical known by the poetic name of 2, 4,
6-trichloroanisole. This makes the wine smell dank, like a wet dog. And if
you’re not quite sure what a wet dog smells like, you’re welcome to borrow
one of mine after it’s been out in the rain. There will, of course, be a
Faulty bottles are more likely to be oxidized rather than corked.
Oxidization turns white wines yellowish and red wines take on an orange
tinge and smell of jammy cooked fruit. It usually happens because of bad
storage or transit. When cases of wine are left lying around in a hot
loading bay, or spend hours sweltering in the back of a truck, the wine
expands in the bottles and sometimes pushes the corks out a little way. When
the wine finally cools down, air is sucked into the bottle and oxidization
Screw caps have a much lower failure rate, because they prevent oxidation
and give the wine a better chance of reaching you in good condition. They’re
easier to open too. If I were a wine waiter, I’d much prefer to twist
screw-caps all evening rather than go through the tortuous Ballet of the
Corkscrew. If you want to impress your friends, the technical name of the
screw-cap is a Stelvin Closure, named after the most well-known brand
which was developed by Rio Tinto Alcan in the late 1960s and 1970s.
“The Pump” Chardonnay 2011 (white), Australia (Bt. 385 @
Big C Extra and others)
This comes from a winery called Jindalee, which sounds more like
a character from The Mikado than a winery. But apparently it’s an
Aboriginal word that means “bare hills”. Founded by the brothers Vince and
David Littore, Jindalee Estate (“We’re wild about our wine”) is one
of the largest privately-owned vineyards in Southeastern Australia with over
1,400 acres of land. They produce nearly two million bottles of wine a year
including some high quality table wines.
This wine actually smells like a Chardonnay which is a good start, with
classy aromas of warm, sweet fruit, notably peaches and melons. When the
bottle has been open for a while, you might pick up a faint whiff of lime
too. There’s plenty of fruit on the palate and just a tiny dash of acidity
to firm it up. The wine is clean and dry, a hint of fruity sweetness and a
long, dry and pleasing finish. I rather enjoyed this and I have to admit it
rather exceeded my expectations. Although it’s quite crisp and lively, it’s
very much a commercial Aussie easy-to-drink style and it could well appeal
to people who don’t normally drink wine. It’s fine on its own but could make
a good partner for light fish or chicken dishes.
“The wine,” says the back label “is made with a sense of adventure and
irreverence.” What this actually means is anyone’s guess. Honestly, I
haven’t a clue.
“The Pump” Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon (red), Australia (Bt.
385 @ Big C Extra and others)
The aroma of this dark red wine is dominated by the Shiraz in the
blend: that intense seductive black olive, peppery, plum-jam aroma that
you’ll recognise if you’ve ever stuck your snout in a glass of Shiraz. “And
who hasn’t?” I hear you ask, for Shiraz must be one of the most popular
wines around. Well, I have to tell you that one of my dogs called Ee-ah has
never tasted Shiraz, because she refuses to touch red wine. Apparently it
brings on one of her migraines, or so she claims. If you ask me, she’s a bit
of a hypochondriac. You know what Thai dogs are like.
Oh dear, now where was I? You know, when you get to that Certain Age it’s
very easy to lose track of things. Ah yes, the Shiraz. But there’s also
Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, which you’ll know already if you’ve been
paying attention. The Cabernet brings the typical reminders of black fruit
and cherries and adds a bit of firmness.
It doesn’t take long to realise that despite the decent price, this is also
a decent wine. It’s an attractive easy-drinker with a soft, rounded texture.
It’s a few degrees away from being bone dry and has a satisfying fruity
finish. I’ll be quite happy to drink a few glasses of this on its own,
although it would go well with many red meat and cheese dishes. Alright
then, I’d admit it: the wine is a bit of a crowd-pleaser. But there’s
nothing wrong in that. After all, so was Johann Strauss. Just think of all
those waltzes and marches that he churned out. He probably enjoyed a few
glasses of Shiraz from time to time too. But of course in those days, he
would have had to pull a cork and not do the twist.