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Sunday, July 12, 2009

WINE BANTER: John Haggard of Sophies Cellars Jul7 2009

Don’t judge a bottle by its cap…
By John Haggard

More and more, you may have noticed screw caps on your wine bottles. There are a lot of differing opinions and ideas about how a bottle should be presented and what is best to protect and preserve wine, but the use of cork in wine bottles, which goes back to the mid-1600’s is one that is hard to break. In my twenty years of fine dining service, the presentation of the bottle to the guest, the cutting of the foil and the removal of the cork is an intrinsic part of the pleasurable experience of enjoying wine with a meal because of its tradition as much as its necessity.
Let’s start with the basics: what choices are there for sealing a bottle of wine? There are three methods currently in use: traditional cork, synthetic corks (made from plastics) and screw caps.

Synthetic corks currently have the worst seal (in order to enable them to be removed). Wines exposed to air will not age. If you purchase a wine with a synthetic cork, be sure that you will be consuming it within a year or two. Synthetic corks are mostly used today on inexpensive wines.
Then there’s traditional cork. Cork is a renewable resource, and is biodegradable. A good cork, which is probably 90 – 95% of all corks, may allow a wine to age thirty years or more. But how many wines are made to age for thirty years, and how many wine buyers are prepared to wait that long on the ones that are? There is cork failure in 5-10% of wines, sometimes due to TCA, a fungus that invades the cork fibers and creates a musty smell: such tainted bottles of wine are said to be “corked”.

Screw caps do provide an excellent seal, and many tests show that wines can be aged in them. However, there are some experts who believe a tiny amount of air that a traditional cork allows into a bottle over time may actually help the aging process.

I am seeing more and more high-end wines appear with screw caps. I must admit to being one of the early skeptics, but, in my experience, it’s more a matter of great winemakers taking the screw-cap on board. I have certainly tasted some great wines in a screw cap bottle, including, most recently, the Inman Pinot Noirs (Olivet Grange and Thorn Road), 2006 Russian River Pinot Noirs retailing at $50-$60 and the Inman Rose retailing at $25-$30.

New Wine Map
We have many great wine maps in Sonoma County – there is the Wine Road wine map and the Russian River Valley Winegrowers map. Steppin’ Out Magazine does a great job of combining Sonoma / Napa / Mendocino and other Northern California wine regions in a nice glossy magazine. The new 101 Things To Do Magazine is all over Sonoma County and the wine maps are accurate. The large print makes them easy to read and there is lots of information for your friends or guests who are not familiar with Sonoma – it’s also free, as are all the aforementioned maps.

Gamay Noir Time
Perhaps, just like the much anticipated Beaujolais Nouveau from France each year (which is a Gamay) – it’s time for Paul Mathew’s new vintage of Gamay Noir. I wrote about the 2007 last year – and I think his 2008 is even better. A complex wine with herbaceous dark fruit flavors with hints of spice and bubblegum… best served cool but not cold. It is being poured by the glass at our fabulous new Boon Restaurant in Guerneville, and is available at Sophie’s Cellars (retail price $16.99). Very limited production.

Cazadero Wine Tasting
If you’re in the Russian River area on Saturday July 18th, check out the Cazadero Wine Tasting Event at CazSonoma Lodge. Proceeds benefit the Cazadero Community Club. There are some great winemakers on the ridges from Cazadero to the Sonoma Coast and they have been quite generous in supporting this event. Advanced tickets are available at Sophie’s Cellars in Monte Rio ($30). For more information, call 707-632-5255.

John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, The Sonoma Wine & Cheese Market in Monte Rio, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open 11am – 7pm, closed only on Wednesdays.