Saturday, June 11, 2011

Blue Mountain is faithful to corks ... alas

Photo: Ian Mavety

Several years ago, I asked Ian Mavety, the co-founder of Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars, what he thought of screw cap closures.

Blue Mountain uses corks to close its wines. It is what one would anticipate from a winery whose wines are more informed by the Old World than by the New World.

Ian’s reply on screw caps was not surprising.

“When you taste such a [screw cap] wine against a wine that has a cork in it, after six or seven months, there is a huge difference,” he said. “You are seeing people who have been at it and know what they are doing, are adjusting their winemaking to handle a screw cap. That seems to me an ass-backwards way of doing it, creating a problem and having to implement another thing in the middle of it. And you are also seeing those who have had screw caps the longest are going back to corks.”

He was referring to what winemakers know, or learned the hard way. The sulphur level is especially critical when a wine is put under a screw cap. If the sulphur is too high, the wine gets stinky under the airtight seal.

Of course, when a wine with the correct level of sulphur and with no other defects is bottled under screw cap, the aromas and the flavours are likely to remain fresher than under cork. The wine will develop differently under screw cap than cork. Some will argue that cork development makes a wine more complex.

The big switch to screw caps for all wines, not just cheap wines, began a decade or so ago in Australia and New Zealand. It was adopted by producers elsewhere as a way to avoid “corked” wines. That refers to the musty aroma and bitter flavour that wines develop when bottled with defective corks.

Corked wines had become epidemic a decade ago. The problem corks are not obvious to the naked eye, manifesting themselves only after the wine has been in bottle for a time.

During the past five years, the cork producers responded to the problem by refining quality control so much that corked wines have become rare again.

But they still happen. The irony that the only corked wine I have encountered this spring was a bottle of Blue Mountain Chardonnay Reserve 2008, one of a quartet of review wines. It is now sold out at the winery, making a review irrelevant.

I don’t expect Blue Mountain to adopt screw caps any time soon, if ever. The winery has been making fine wines and bottling under cork now for 20 years and the number of corked wines from this producer, in my experience, has been insignificant. Blue Mountain never bought cheap corks. Today, Blue Mountain’s clientele would likely be outraged if the winery started using screw caps.

The other three recent Blue Mountain releases were none the worse for being under cork. I am sure Ian would argue they were the better for it.

Here are my notes.

Blue Mountain Pinot Gris Reserve 2008 ($25.90). This is a complex wine, at once reminding me of a serious Alsace Pinot Gris and a good Rhone white. It begins with aromas of citrus and yeast (evidence of time spent on the lees to flesh out the texture). There are intense flavours of tangerine and blood orange, with a hint of anise and minerals. The finish is crisp and dry. 91.

Blue Mountain Pinot Noir 2009 ($25). This is as bold and forward a Pinot Noir as I have seen in Blue Mountain’s regular range. The cherry aromas are lifted by toasted notes of oak. The wine is full on the palate, with dark cherry flavours and with the classic silky texture. 90.

Blue Mountain Pinot Noir Reserve 2008 ($35.90). This wine begins with an alluring aroma of strawberries and cherries. Dark in colour, it has flavours of raspberries and strawberries. The elegant texture includes some firm tannins, allowing this wine to age into a great Burgundy. 93-95.


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