Last week we noted that cork has traditionally been valued as a stopper, since it excels at re-expanding to the shape of a bottle. A popular misconception holds that Dom Perignon devised a conical cork to better withstand the pressure that develops within a bottle of sparkling wine. Many also mistakenly think he was visually impaired, since he would blind-taste wine. Traditions must begin somewhere.
Variation in cork quality and length customarily predicts the quality of wine in the bottle. A flawed cork will invariably create an environment that will taint the wine. Only the finest solid cork cylinders are chosen by the best wineries throughout the world, because they usually stamp their house name on the cork. Any blemish in the cork could, quite literally, stain their name.
That being said, the yearly cork harvest is finite and cannot supply all the wine industry’s demand. Other forms of stoppers had to be developed by necessity.
For wines that are to be consumed within two years of release, leftover cork is sometimes ground down and shaped with an adhesive. (The base is capped with a disk of pure cork to prevent contact between the wine and the adhesive.) Synthetic corks have also been developed for a similar purpose.
Although developed approximately 40 years ago, the Stelvin screw cap was not widely accepted within the wine industry. Traditionalists felt it to be an inferior stopper, suitable only for mediocre wines. But southern hemisphere wineries embraced the screw cap to facilitate export of their wine to Europe and North America. Consequently, over the last decade, the attitude against the screw cap has done a complete about-face. It is now widely used throughout the world, because wineries know that their product will remain as perfect as when bottled, free from exterior contamination.
But the anticipation of great taste — created by drawing a cork from a bottle of fine wine — is a ritual pleasure that is hard to surrender. And sommelier panels continue to blind-taste wines.
It’s the time of year to enjoy a wonderful glass of rich red wine. If you are feeling adventurous, I suggest Karlo Estates 2010 Fifth Element ($39). Created by Richard Karlo, this wine is made from the petit verdot (small green) grape. This varietal is extremely difficult to grow. In order to ripen, the grape clusters tend to require a perfect flowering season and a late harvesting. When the stars and weather planets are in alignment, petit verdot allows the winemaker to produce a very special wine.
Karlo’s 2010 Fifth Element, displays the potency of the varietal with the deep rich color and spicy nose of wild eucalyptus from the west coast. The palate is a big mouthful of anise, black currant and plug tobacco — with a balanced acidity.
Karlo Estates is located at 561 Danforth Road, in Hillier.
Wines of the County is featured every week in The Times and on the East & Main Bistro website.