Screw-caps work, but that’s not enough for some

Iain Riggs of Brokenwood (Photo: Supplied)

Brokenwood’s manager and chief winemaker Iain Riggs is a well-known anti-cork crusader, whose curiosity sometimes takes him to unusual lengths.

He recently staged a tasting of six white Bordeaux wines sealed under screw-caps, coincidentally shining some light on two of his own new releases: the superlative 2011 ILR Reserve Semillon and the 2017 Cricket Pitch White*.

The Bordeaux tasting was of six white Graves wines from two of the many châteaux owned by André Lurton: Château Couhins-Lurton (100% sauvignon blanc cru classé de Graves) and Château La Louvière (a Grand Vin de Graves sauvignon blanc semillon blend).

Riggs had read a press report from the UK which mentioned that Lurton, sick of losing so much wine to cork-related taints, had bottled some of his best white wines under screw-caps, as early as 2004. But they had proven so difficult to sell that he ended up with a massive stock of unsold wines that no-one wanted. He’d since switched to Diam cork for his dry whites.

The ever-resourceful Riggs obtained three vintages of each wine (spanning 2004 to 2011) and invited professional tasters from the media and trade to taste them. He opened three vintages of Cricket Pitch White (2017, 2015 and 2010) for comparison.

The Couhins-Lurton wines were all good, especially the youngest 2009, showing pungent sauvignon blanc fruit; the 2005 was good and the 2004 was fully mature and needed to be drunk soon – but then, why shouldn’t it be fully mature, at 13 years?

The more expensive La Louvière wines were a step up in quality, more concentrated and showing attractive oak embellishment. The youngest, 2011, was superb; 2009 was excellent and the oldest, 2006, was starting to tire a little. In all cases, the screw-caps had done their job well.

There’s no reason why Monsieur Lurton’s customers shouldn’t have been enjoying these wines for years, except for their own hide-bound obstinacy.

The Brokenwood Cricket Pitch is an altogether cheaper wine with less pretension to ageing. The 2017 is a fresh, crisp sauvignon blanc semillon which hits the spot. The 2015 was showing a bit too much green parsley for me, but still a decent wine; the 2010 was still drinking quite well, although arguably past its optimum, showing a medium to full yellow colour and a slightly sweet-and-sour balance. Again, the screw-caps had kept them as well as could be expected.

The ILR Reserve Semillon 2011 is a beautiful wine, and at six years of age is still very fresh, while also showing the benefit of bottle-age in its lovely toasty complexity. It will drink superbly any time over the next decade if well cellared.

Brokenwood’s 2009 Oakey Creek Semillon was served alongside the ILR, which was a fascinating comparison as they came from the same vineyard, but had been vinified by different winemakers. The ’09 was made by P.J. Charteris, who Riggs said had favoured a tighter, more austere style of Hunter semillon. It was tasting younger than the 2011 on the day and while it might have been forbiddingly austere when young, it’s a great drink today.

The 2011 ILR, made by current winemaker Stuart Hordern, is a softer, more open wine which was more inviting younger. It’s ready now and Riggs expects it to peak earlier than the longer-living 2009.

Both are fabulous wines. Which one you prefer depends on your personal taste.

*All Brokenwood wines, red and white, are screw-capped.

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