Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

French wines: using corks, screw tops or boxes


John Talbott
 Share

Recommended Posts

French wines: using corks, screw tops or boxes

Over the years, since I’ve had two relatives in the biz (one in Carmel, CA, the other in Gisborne, New Zealand,) I’ve been discussing the merits/demerits of corks, screw tops and box wines.

Today, two articles, one in the FT by Jancis Robinson, arguably the most influential wine person in the world (excepting Frank Prial and Robert Parker, my wonderful, hometown neighbor) and another, a book review in the WP by Jane Black of George M. Tabor’s To cork or not to cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, And the Battle for the Wine Bottle appeared and prompted this topic.

Myself, when I first came to live in France, I saw my two best friends storing box wines on their terraces and pour them into carafes and thought “how gauche.” Much, much later, on returning wine to my friendly local Cavavin merchant because it was bad, he said, oh 10% of wines are bad, don’t worry, (not adding that on the one hand, dummies like me are too afraid to say so and on the other, that rich Americans turn back perfectly good wines in fancy restos not because they’re “corked” or whatever but because it’s not what they expected.)

In any case back to the topic. A lot of very classy Aussie/Kiwi/South African wine is now screw-capped and some pretty good French regional stuff is boxed. I predict that it’s on the upswing; but will it catch up to the global trend?

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

Link to comment
Share on other sites

John, I haven't seen many plastic corks or screw tops down here, but I have seen quite a few boxes.

Many of the boxes are at the less expensive producers. One of my favorites being Domaine de Monteils a bit North of Montauban. Their wines are good solid vin ordinaires, nothing special, but very quaffable. There you can buy the wine in three ways:

In a bidon you bring. Filled straight from the tap.

In a box which you buy from them, price according to box size. You pay the same price/ litre as when using the bidon. They fill the box as you wait.

In a corked bottle.

As you would expect the bidon is cheapest, but you have to drink fast to prevent oxidization or decant & still drink fast.

The boxed wine seems to stay fresh for quite a long time and is now my preferred method of buying everyday house wines.

I am starting to see more & more boxes available at more upmarket wineries, but there is still a reluctance to put the very top quality stuff in a box. I wish they would as I think it saves money given the rising cost of corks & bottles.

I doubt if a box would do for a wine that's going to be laid down for a few years, but equally I doubt that screw tops or plastic corks would work either. I think you need that slight breath ability that only a natural cork seems to give.

I'm not bothered as I decided a few years ago to start buying only wines I could drink without cellaring for any length of time. I'm at an age where I think; why should I leave the good stuff to the Kids?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In a bidon you bring. Filled straight from the tap.

Ah, I and probably only John Whiting go back far enough to recall when that was the way to buy your family (table) wine, by the spigot.

The other was in clunky bottles with the most amazingly stark black and white labels that gave the equivalent of name, rank and serial number.

I doubt that screw tops or plastic corks would work either. I think you need that slight breath ability that only a natural cork seems to give.
But when you weigh the 10% spoilage rate against the slight inconvenience of opening a bottle a bit in advance, I think the high-end folks downunder are onto something.
I'm not bothered as I decided a few years ago to start buying only wines I could drink without cellaring for any length of time. I'm at an age where I think; why should I leave the good stuff to the Kids?

A few years ago, upon the death of a much younger dear friend and colleague I made the same decision. We have a few cases of great old stuff in the cellar that we bring out whenever there's the slightest excuse and drink to Sam.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interestingly, I just this weekend consumed the first French bottle I have seen with a screw-top. It was a 2006 Chablis from Domaine des Malandes. I'll admit, even knowing the spoilage rates, a part of me died a little.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interestingly, I just this weekend consumed the first French bottle I have seen with a screw-top. It was a 2006 Chablis from Domaine des Malandes. I'll admit, even knowing the spoilage rates, a part of me died a little.

Ah, that's another matter; could we ever have champagne whose cork is not popped? Maybe not, but we've moved on from our IBM selectrics, no?

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interestingly, I just this weekend consumed the first French bottle I have seen with a screw-top. It was a 2006 Chablis from Domaine des Malandes. I'll admit, even knowing the spoilage rates, a part of me died a little.

Simon, I'm with you. Maybe they should be called "Domaine de Maladies"

My experience (admittedly only gained by guzzling over many years) is that the 10% rate is far too high.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What timing! Just yesterday I had my first screw cap bottle of wine. A not inexpensive (20 dollars a bottle retail) Austrian wine. The wine was excellent. I would have no hesiitation at buying srew cap wines. at any price level, given my past experiences with corks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have talked with two very knowledgable wine people in Paris, both who own respected wine bars and both were very much in favor of plastic corks and screw tops.

www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A must-read in this regard is Jamie Goode's _The Science of Wine_. He's down-to-earth and explains very clearly the ins and outs of different choices in winemaking and -bottling.

Apparently, of course, since cork has become rarer and rarer, other solutions have been sought, such as synthetic corks and screwcaps, along with agglomerated corks (i.e. glued together from bits and pieces rather than one chunk of cork). Nothing is really satisfying. Synthetic corks start to let air in after two years, and screwcaps, unfortunately, lead to reduction - which is, interestingly, a *lack* of air getting through. Apparently, a wine ages better with a minuscule amount of air. Reduction can create tastes of rotten eggs or (as one winemaker told me) "tripes de sanglier."

But agglomerated corks are perhaps responsible for higher numbers of corked wines, when a bacteria called TCA gets into the cork and taints the wine in the bottle, creating a musty or "off" taste.

So, the choice is not an easy one. Though it is true that these days, some top Chablis producers, including Laroche, are testing out screwcaps on their bottles. "New World" wines are far more screwcap friendly. But the lack of long-term testing makes them, for now, viable only for wines you don't really need to age.

As for getting your wine at the "biberie" or "en vrac" - that still happens, here and there. A caviste near me at Les Gobelins between the 5th and 13th arr't sells cubis of wine. I think people who are interested in wine have kept the wine culture in all its forms; otherwise, people just pick up whatever in the supermarket.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As for getting your wine at the "biberie" or "en vrac" - that still happens, here and there. A caviste near me at Les Gobelins between the 5th and 13th arr't sells cubis of wine. I think people who are interested in wine have kept the wine culture in all its forms; otherwise, people just pick up whatever in the supermarket.

16 months ago, en route from Paris thru Fromentine to the Ile d'Yeu with 11 other members of my nuclear family, I went into a fungible-looking wine depot/entrepot and got a huuuuuge plastic can of rather good wine, which never got oxygenated/corked/ruined for the next 10 days. It was the "gift that keeps on giving," as Bob Woodward says of the Nixon tapes.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...