By Jim Boyce
I’ve spent a great deal of time drinking and thinking about wine this past year and have emerged with mixed opinions, but happily I just got an email from regular commentator 8 Songs that reminded me why I like both wine and the Friday night with Frank tastings in Beijing. There aren’t many places where you can have an impromptu cork versus screw top contest, try an Indonesian wine, and experience excellent comradery all in one night. So, here is 8 Songs’ take on just such an occasion, though he seems to have left out the parts about dancing on chairs and a regular dressing up as Santa Claus (yes, I have my sources).
“The Friday night wine tasting at Sequoia Café last Friday night yielded an unexpected and enlightening opportunity to pit screw top against cork.
“It came about because the evening was a “bring your own bottle” night. Amongst the treasures from the 14 who attended were two bottles of Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. One was under cork, the other had a screw top.
“A more diligent reporter would have gone to Penfolds to check the logic for why one of their premium wines should have two different closures….
“We did check the provenance of the two bottles before us. One came from the duty free store at Sydney Airport two months ago, while the other was lifted from a private collection in Melbourne.
“Our host Frank Siegel suggested we do a taste-off and supplied us with a second glass.
“The two wines were like chalk and cheddar, tea and turnips, or Pavarotti and punk – whichever imagery works for you.
“Though both had a deep purple, almost black appearance in the glass, one introduced itself with a full aroma suggesting a fine balance between fruit and tannin. The other had a fruit aroma but without the complexity. In the mouth, the first caressed our taste buds with an explosion of flavour at the start, a complex structure and a long slow finish with a hint of acid that suggested it could have stayed in the cellar another couple of years. The other was an ordinary wine with no complexity and barely any resemblance to its brother. (Or is it sister?)
“I need to reveal a few qualifications on this.
“- We had already “tasted” about a dozen wines before these two. I saw no one spit their taste at any time during the evening.
” – We had fresh glasses for the screw-top wine, but for the cork we used our same glasses as for the previous 10 or so bottles.
” – We did not give the two bottles any airing time. They were cracked and poured. Some time in a carafe may have helped the second wine.
” – Yours truly brought one of the two 407s.
“So which was which? We had 14 tasters, some with palates still maturing, others with quite advanced technical skills. But the verdict was unanimous – the wine under cork had aged magnificently and had developed into a great wine. The wine under aluminium had not done a thing in its three or four years in the bottle. It was truly stuck in a time warp.
“The group lamented that we had neither Jim Boyce [Thanks for the plug! - Ed.] nor Beijing’s ambassador for cork Ricardo Duarte there that night.
“By the way, we had another surprise that evening. A bottle of Indonesian white wine was offered for tasting. Called Aga White and from the highlands of Bali, the label urged us not to cellar this wine. But it was fine – a slight apple/citrus taste but well built and would be perfect on a long slow Sunday afternoon on Kuta Beach ["Is this a motion for a field trip?" - Ed.].
More on corks and screw tops:
Screw it? A video conference with Wolf Blass and George Samios
Cork it? An interview with Amorim’s Carlos de Jesus
The fault with no name: Frankie Zhao on corked wine in China