Natural Cork Beneficial For Sparklings

I’m a card-carrying cork-hater, but I can’t ignore credible evidence of the goodness of natural cork when it comes my way.

There is strong weight of opinion that natural cork not only makes a nice pop when it’s released from sparkling wine, but has an important effect on the smell and taste of properly aged, high-quality methode champenoise. Ed Carr of Hardy’s House of Arras (tastings) has told me this, and just recently Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, chief winemaker at Champagne Louis Roederer (tastings), said similar things during his recent visit to Australia. “Time on cork is essential,” he said, “at least six months, and one year for Cristal (the company’s flagship wine) (tastings). The wine is smoother and better integrated. I would prefer to have three years on lees and three on cork. Time on cork is just as important as time on lees.”

What he’s getting at is that Cristal has at least five years on lees and one on cork after disgorgement. The 2006, now a seven and a half year-old wine, is the current release. It hurts me to quote this but Lecaillon said it, and I believe him: “Cork is irreplaceable.”

Roederer uses some Diam composite cork, but only in its half-bottles. It also uses Diam in its sous-marque, Theophile, which we don’t see in Australia. 

In my opinion Roederer’s wines have attained a new level since Lecaillon took over the top job in 1999. Tasting notes on the wonderful new Roederer releases, including a mini-vertical of six vintages of Cristal, will be posted shortly.

Footnote: Ed Carr told me, and more or less demonstrated it with a tasting of vintage Arras, that his Tasmanian wines don’t acquire their bready cracked-yeast complexity until at least six months on cork, after disgorgement. Until then, the fruit dominates. 

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