You are currently viewing the International Edition. You can also switch to the Hong Kong Edition.
Sunday 5 July 2015

Closures: Part 1 ­– the world’s most high profile experiment?

10th September, 2012 by Patrick Schmitt - This article is over multiple pages: 1 2

Paul Pontallier, director, Château Margaux

Paul Pontallier. Photo credit: François Poincet

In February this year, Paul Pontallier showed the results of a range of experiments at the Bordeaux property to the press for the first time in London. Among his trials, which concerned a range of winemaking and viticultural techniques, were a set of three reds from the 2003 vintage, and three white wines from the 2004 harvest, sealed under different closures – one natural cork and two screwcaps with different linings (Saratin and Saranex, the latter being more oxygen-permeable). Pontallier had also trialled wines under synthetic corks, but has decided not to show them, as the results were “catastrophic”. All the wines in the experiment were prepared in the same way.

The wines were made from vineyard parcels which would have been used for Pavillon Rouge and Blanc, and were served blind to a packed room of UK press. After each flight – one for red, and another for white – Pontallier asked for a show of hands to see which was the preferred wine.

For the red flight, a quick count of hands indicated the wine sealed under the Saratin-lined screwcap as the favourite, and Pontallier himself said that the wine aged under impermeable screwcap [Saratin-lined] was probably his preferred option: “Because I find the mouth softer.”

Interestingly with the white wines, the room voted for the first of the flight, which had been sealed using natural cork, and actually tasted the youngest and freshest, although it wasn’t markedly different from the third one, closed using a Saratin-lined screwcap. In both red and white flights, the wines under the more permeable Saranex screwcap showed elements of oxidation, and more forward, evolved aromatics than either the natural cork or less permeable screwcap.

Speaking to Pontallier more recently about the background to the experiments, he explained that he had begun the closure trial in 2002 due to a high level of TCA in the wines from the Margaux property and because of the advent of screwcaps as a credible alternative. Even today, despite buying the “best natural cork on the market from four different suppliers,” he said that TCA is still an issue in the wines of Château Margaux, all of which are sealed using natural cork. “The cork people have indeed made lots of progress, and today TCA is below 1%, but this is still unacceptable; even if only one bottle in a thousand is ruined, it is ridiculous.”

As for the results of the experiments, he says he finds it very difficult to draw conclusions at this stage: “What we have seen is a slightly different evolution [depending on the closure type]… but today it is too early.” Pontallier feels that he will need to wait another decade or two before he can conclusively decide whether one closure is better than another. And recent blind tastings with people who know Châteaux Margaux “very well” haven’t been conclusive, with no clear consensus on whether the wine under one particular closure is better than under another.

Pontallier also added that of the many factors that go into closure choice, it is the technical performance that is the most important. So if screwcaps give better results with Pavillon Rouge or Blanc in another 10 years’ time, will Pontalier make the switch? “If we conclude that one closure is significantly better than the other, then we would be really tempted to use it – whatever it is.”

9 Responses to “Closures: Part 1 ­– the world’s most high profile experiment?”

  1. Mike says:

    It’s just too bad that both synthetic and screwcap closures have evolved so much over the last 10 years, making this experiment interesting, but not very useful. The data collected has little to no direct bearing on modern alternative closures. So yeah, interesting read, but not useful in making closure decisions.

  2. Chris says:

    Mike, There may have been changes to the synthetic corks, but the screwcaps that were used by Chateau Margaux (with Sarantin and Saranex liner) are still the primary liner options and are still available on the market.

  3. David Wollan says:

    It seems extraordinary to me that the closure matter is still controversial. Screwcaps have been a successful closure for decades. As wine science students in the late 1970s, we made wine at what is now Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga Australia. The 1978 vintage were mainly white wines of their era, produced fairly anaerobically and were bottled using Stelvin closures. Some were sealed with natural cork. Occasionally over the decades since then, I would try one of these bottles. All the wines under cork had completely faded over 20 years ago. Those under screwcap were certainly developed but still drinkable after 30 years.
    As a winemaker, consultant and technologist over many years, my experience with the variability of cork has been bitter. It is not just TCA but the unpredictability of the sealing performance of cork that has convinced me that its time has passed.
    People should understand and accept that wine maturation has 2 distinct stages: the oxidative in the winery when the winemaker allows the tannin and other characters to develop and resolve; and the reductive in bottle where different, slower reactions take place. Oxygen ingress into the bottle is hard to control and has little positive to offer. The results for the permeable liners, are thus not surprising.

  4. Yo he degustado los vinos del Chateau Margaux. A ver, mis favoritos del Chateau, claro esta por calidad-dinero,
    mi favorito es el Pavillon Blanc, siempre embotellado en bordelesa y tapon corcho natural. Luego el Pavillon rouge
    este, realmente no he podido apreciarlo tanto. Esto asi, pues siempre me ha parecido un St. Emilion por su bouquet,
    aunque no muy pronunciado en el Pavillon.
    No quiero comentar sobre el Chateau Margaux, ya ese es otra cosa …Oh, la,la, para eso hay que tener muchas
    experiencias en ese caldo excepcionalmente “excelente”.

  5. Andrew Gunn, Iona says:

    A positive outcome in my opinion, indicating that Saratin and a good cork both perform well. We are also surprised that cork closures in whites are often preferred and retain freshness. Very much a perception and up to the consumer, but venture to say we won’t see screwcaps on 1st growths or Grand Crus, this would take a brave winemaker indeed!

  6. Sean Williams says:

    Good info — I used cork as a determinant in a report on “The Quality of Wine” for a college geography assignment. The 2 & 7/8ths inch Bordeaux corks were impressive when presented by the sommelier. Keep me posted.

  7. Beatrix says:

    I prefer to buy wine red and white with cork, I hate it if I have to open a bottle with a screw cap! It’s just not the same! It’s like opening brandy not wine!
    The wine taste even better with the cork! We use to drink a glass of the same red wine every day that use to be cork and since it is change to a screw cap it don’t taste the same anymore and it taste if there is a sharp taste in the wine. I don’t even buy that wine anymore!

  8. MJ says:

    This is a very interesting experiment indeed. May I ask why you did not also use Diam in the trial?

  9. Grant Ramage says:

    I’m interested to know whether any of the wines for the comparative tasting were found to be TCA-affected and, if so, were they served or replaced with ‘clean’ samples?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

If that's interesting, how about these?

Accolade's Fish Hoek goes Fairtrade

South Africa's Fish Hoek is to go Fairtrade from the 2015 vintage, becoming more...

Australia puts quality centre stage

Wine Australia has pledged to invest AUD$35m annually for the next five years more...

Mumm releases Santana sparkler

Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana has teamed up with Mumm Napa to release a more...

PR Manager


Champagne needs to 'create a new occasion'

Champagne needs to "create a new occasion" and better communicate its brand if more...

Men down $1k of ‘aphrodisiac’ wine at airport

Two Chinese air passengers downed an entire bottle of aphrodisiac wine after more...

Copa América: Malbec vs Carmenère

Saturday sees Chile and Argentina go head-to-head in football’s Copa América more...

Hardys invests £4m in summer of cricket

Hardys has unveiled a new £4 million consumer marketing campaign to tie in more...

Red wine could help fight depression

A component found in the skins of red grapes could be used to treat depression more...

Q&A: John Barbier, the Colorado cook-vintner

“I have never followed a recipe in my life, I’m a man of instinct”, more...

London Sales Manager / Key Account Manager

London, United Kingdom

Competitive - depending on skills and experience

How to drink like a billionaire

With access to tropical islands, private yachts and the best food and drink more...

Top 10 wines in the US press

An impressive Tannat-Merlot-Zinfandel blend from Uruguay and a Vernaccia from more...

The week in pictures

Pub-friendly pooches, Kevin Spacey and a one-off tasting of Achaval Ferrer more...

Business Development Executive

London, United Kingdom

£25-£30K + benefits, depending on experience

Bordeaux 2005: 12 ‘perfect’ wines

Twelve wines have been given “perfect” 100-point ratings in Robert more...

Hong Kong: Red obsession

While whites are starting to be taken seriously in Hong Kong restaurants, the more...

Hart Davis Hart biggest in US

Chicago-based wine auctioneer Hart Davis Hart is the market leader in the US in more...

Warehouse Supervisor

London, United Kingdom

£27,000-£30,000 depending on experience

Wimbledon serves up English wine

Organisers of this year’s Wimbledon have decided to offer tennis fans English more...

Austrian wine importer launches in Hong Kong

A wine importer specialising in Austrian wines has launched in Hong Kong to more...

Is Parker wrong about the 05 Médocs?

With no Médoc wines gaining 100-points in Robert Parker’s retrospective of more...

International Business Development Assistant

London, United Kingdom

To be determined, based on the profile and experience of the candidate

Wine from Napoleon’s carriage to be sold

A bottle of wine apparently found in Napoleon’s carriage after Waterloo – more...

Top 10 wines in the US press

A Texan Albariño, NY Riesling and Californian Syrah are among the wine tips more...