Friday, June 29, 2007

"Shall I unscrew it for you?"

One of my favorite sitcoms of all time is Night Court. In one memorable episode, Dan Fielding, the Lothario of all prosecutors (played brilliantly by John Larroquette), finally gets his chance to bed his nemesis, defense attorney Christine Sullivan. Always the…ahem…gentleman, Dan takes Christine out for dinner, orders some bubbly, and the maître d' delivers a classic line:

"Chateau Libido isn't one of our usual selections. Shall I unscrew it for you?"

Screwcaps and cheap wine have a long association. For years, only wines of last resort had screwtops instead of corks. These wines generally could be found comfortably nestled in paper bags in the hands of…well…people who regularly drink wines of last resort. For many years, screwcaps had this unfortunate association.

Oxygen is generally the #1 enemy of wine. If you've ever had the misfortune to drink from a bottle with a deteriorated cork, you know that vinegar taste well. In addition, there's a chemical compound called TCA that can form in a cork when moisture, chlorine, and mold interact. This causes a wine to taste like damp cardboard. When a wine takes on this flavor, it’s said to be “corked” – an affliction affecting about one bottle per case of imported wine, on average.

Enter the "Stelvin closure." Stelvins were invented in the 1950's in France. The Stelvin is a screwtop designed specifically for use with wine bottles. Stelvins are two-piece caps that create a virtually airtight seal, thus no "corked" wine or rotting closures. They're also much more environmentally friendly, since no trees are damaged in the making of these closures. In the late 90's, Australia became the first country to use screwtops widely. Some California winemakers (most notably Bonny Doon) followed suit in the early 2000's. Some vintners now put $100+ wine in screw top bottles.

The Stelvin's popularity continues to spread. About 10 percent of all wine bottled worldwide now are sealed with screwtops. Two issues prevent screwtops from becoming more widespread. First, aging. No one knows how well wine will age in a screwtop bottle. Second, romance. Many feel there's something magical to that "pop" of a freshly drawn cork.

Since we're not worried about aging and you can open wines in another room -- I say ease of use wins out. Worse to be caught corkscrewless than seem cheap. Also, since you can twist the top back on and the seal is airtight, the wine maintains taste for a longer period of time. So, try a couple of these and twist to your heart's content:

Hogue 2005 Washington State Pinot Grigio -- Hogue was one of the first large-scale U.S. winemakers to switch to Stelvins. They've always done decent, inexpensive wine -- but they grabbed a larger market share after making the twist switch. As for the wine itself, the nose is light with peach and apple scents. The body is full for a pinot grigio. It's a little acidic, but with an interesting creaminess. The finish is of decent length with a refreshing end. You could consider serving this with slightly heavier food than you might an ordinary pinot grigio. Fettucini alfredo, grilled shrimp, etc… $8-10.

Twin Wells 2004 Terra Australis Reserve Shiraz: "So a Frenchman goes to Australia…" No, I don't know a punchline, and I have no idea if the winemaker is really a French expat, but this wine is as close to Europe as I've had from Australia. Since the Ozzies started this trend on a large scale, we need a wine from Down Under as an appropriate representative. The Sweet Partner in Crime gave me this wine as a blind test, and I thought I was sniffing a Cotes-du-Rhone. The nose was a little too rich and fruity for a C-d-R, but the "Old World Funk" seemed to be there. The flavor is definitely Australian Shiraz: big, dark fruits -- but with an earthier body than most. The finish is long, a little tannic, and a little tart. The price is what blew me away on this one. Found this at Trader Joe's for $7. Serve with your typical shiraz foods: grilled meats, roasted chicken, lamb, steak, and so on.

Verget du Sud 2006 Rosé de Syrah -- Not even the stodgy French could resist the temptation of the Stelvin. Winemaker Jean-Marie Guffens is a traveler. He wanders France looking for small growers producing good grapes -- but doesn't limit himself to the grapes of a particular region. His wines are exclusively (to my knowledge) capped with Stelvins. This rosé is made from southern Rhone Valley Syrah. This is a "pretty smelling" rosé -- lots of flowers and pineapple. It's very nicely balanced to taste -- the fruit isn't overcome by any acidic "bite." The finish does turn tart and a little dry. The combination of acidity and full (for rosé) body would make this a winner with almost any food short of heavy beef and sauces. With anything shellfish related, especially a fish stew or paella, it brings down the house. $9-12.

Any of these selections would be superior to D.A. Fielding’s choice of sparkling wine. But few men have walked the earth armed with a better coup de grace than Dan’s clincher:

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways....I know 52 of them."

Court adjourned!


1 comment:

The Wizard said...

Night Court! Alright!

Like most people, I always assumed corked wines to be superior, though I've recently had a quite a few that came with either screw tops, or synthetic corks.

The best part: No dry corks to break off in the neck.