A March 7 article in the UK Sunday Times tells us what we already know but cannot change while the French winemakers know also and remain sitting on their conservative hands.

As the newspaper reports -”It is not yet understood why, but premature oxidation is making many white burgundy vintages almost undrinkable just when they should be coming into their own.”

“Everywhere else in the world this worrying problem is the subject of internet websites dedicated entirely to it,” said Bernard Burtschy, a highly respected French wine critic. “But there is a real ‘omerta’, or code of honour, on the subject in France.”

Producers are under attack for refusing to replace highly expensive “grand cru” bottles of white burgundy that should have been at their best a decade after being bottled but which instead tasted like sherry.

With the big rise in red burgundy sales in East Asia I’d be very concerned about Burgundian reputations because one bottle in ten is cork tainted and probably another two letting in sufficient air to sherrify or be partly there depending on bottle age.

And once the auctioneer’s hammer falls on DRC Romanee Conti there is no recourse if the wine is foul from cork failure. Top end burgundy is really hot in Hong Kong auctions at present.

I am reminded by the writings of a fellow MW writing about his Greek brands as follows “a recent tasting of Skouras chardonnays and viogniers prove that screw caps rule-keep freshness and direct development down great pathways”.

Meanwhile Jancis Robinson MW reports “Gaia Gaja tells me Italians are very anti screw cap-but our tasting of young German rieslings shows their preservative qualities clearly”.

The terribly affable Ernst Loosen would be keen to hear that now that he totes his rieslings around the world under screw.

And what is more entertaining many Italian wines imported into Australia come under screw. The importers don’t want the problems with cork and re-sellers don’t want the problem with returned bottles complaining about taint. Others from this part of the world come with synthetic closures which do look cheap while the wine is often quite good, but the buyer does not know of the closure until extraction time!

Writer Robert Joseph made light of the fact that the French were now discussing a problem which emerged over twenty years ago and has been serially destroying their prized products since then despite the wholesale inaction.

He wrote to me further saying that it was easier to sell a cork-closed Super Tuscan than a screw capped super South Australian shiraz in the US just by virtue of the closure.

I can suggest that the Australians will not back off, but there is only so long that the Europeans can so arrogantly sell their wine wares with an in-built fault.

Australian and New Zealand drinkers have been educated towards the egalitarian use of screw so it has not become a sales impediment.

And to explain the extent of the problem more from the Sunday Times “The wines worst affected include some of the most prestigious in Burgundy, including Meursault and Montrachet. The problem was noticed in the 1995 wines but Steven Tanzer, an American critic, was the first to raise the alarm in public when the 1996 vintage turned out to be similarly blighted. The problem seems to have intensified since. Although producers appear to be in denial, foreign experts have set up a website called “oxidised burgs”.

“It has affected between 9% and 23% of the very top wines of each of the top vintages from 1996 to 2001,” says the website, “and those percentages seem likely to rise with time.”

And if you are not sure about these cork/screw effects go to a good wine course to find out about this situation. This will put you in better possession of your buying power.


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