Every time I visit fun-loving Rollin Soles at Argyle winery in Oregon, he has some interesting tastings set up for me. This time, he has a vast assortment of freshly pressed juices, barrel samples from the 2005 vintage, and a previous vintages bottled under cork and screwcap for a blind comparison.
To start things off, Soles offers me two glasses of early-pressed juice for sparkling wine. They had plenty of flavor. "Gorgeous stuff," Soles grins. "Makes killer gimlets." (And, one hopes, a good base for the sparkling wines we'll see in a few years.)
The 2005 Chardonnay and Riesling (in bottle but not yet released) show bright flavors and juicy acidity, which is what I have been finding in the 2005 white wines in Willamette Valley. The surprise is the reds. Argyle's Pinot Noirs show none of the tough textures or balance issues I found in other cellars. The wines have generosity, complexity and distinctive characteristics that should get into the bottle as another outstanding vintage.
The main event is the cork vs. screwcap tasteoff. Owned by an Australian company, Argyle has been among the early adopters of the screwcap among quality producers in Oregon. For several years, Soles divided the production, putting some under each closure, giving us a chance to compare.
After two years or more in the bottle, would the screwcapped wines show the kind of development that makes a wine worth cellaring? Would the cork-stoppered wines be as fresh as the more technologically handled ones?
"I would be delighted," Soles allows, "if we could not tell the difference. That would mean that the wines are developing just as well under screwcap as they would under a good cork."
We try four pairs. The wines are poured behind our backs so we can't see which is from which bottle.
Round 1: Chardonnay Nuthouse 2001, in bottle almost four years
Glass A feels totally fresh, with a tangy finish to the citrusy stone-fruit flavors, but an undertone of green olive and honey suggests some maturity. B is much darker in color, showing lots of toast and dark spices, very round and generous but a bit clumsy, suggesting it might be on the downside. No question which one I want to drink. The first one, the one with the fruit. It is the one under screwcap. Round 1 to Mr. Twist.
Round 2: Pinot Noir Nuthouse 2001, in bottle about 3 1/2 years
Not much difference, if any, on the nose, but Glass A has freshness and tang on the palate, with beautifully focused plum and currant flavors. B seems to have a little less integrity, not quite as round and generous. This time the cork is Wine A. Score tied.
Round 3: Pinot Noir Nuthouse 2002, in bottle 2 1/2 years
Glass A shows a gorgeous balance, with a delicious minerality to the long, remarkably fresh, tangy finish. B has slightly more presence on the nose, the fruit more prominent, but it gets a bit hot on the finish. That tilts the balance to A for me, which turns out to be the screwcap. Screwcap leads, 2-1.
Round 4: Pinot Noir Spirithouse 2002, in bottle 2 1/2 years
Glass A is really generous, a blast of plum and berry fruit that just doesn't quit, picking up hints of milk chocolate and wet earth on the long, expressive finish. B has a darker color and feels a bit more advanced, a bit less exuberant, and it has a hint of bitterness on the finish. A slight advantage to A, which is from the capped bottle.
Final score: Screwcap 3, Cork 1. But it is, as they say in sports, closer than that. Two of the pairs are comparable in quality, the difference being which type of aging you prefer. I give the Chardonnay under spiral a clear advantage, and the cork gets a slight preference in the 2001 Pinot.
In the end, Soles gets his wish. There isn't much difference in how the wines are aging.
"I decided to go to screwcaps because I was sick and tired of opening bottles that were not right," says Soles. "The only fear was that the wines might not age as well."
So far, it looks like Soles didn't make a mistake when he moved away from cork.
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — September 27, 2006 1:23am ET
Mark Mccullough — GA — September 27, 2006 10:23am ET
Larry Schaffer — Central Coast — September 27, 2006 10:33am ET
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David A Zajac — September 27, 2006 1:29pm ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — September 27, 2006 1:49pm ET
Dan Jaworek — Chicago — September 27, 2006 3:08pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — September 27, 2006 3:16pm ET
Ziad Keirouz — portland/oregon — September 28, 2006 12:05pm ET
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