One of Burgundy's biggest and most controversial wine merchants, Jean-Claude Boisset, has decided to bottle half his 50-case production of 2005 Chambertin with a metal screw cap and half with cork. The move makes Maison Jean-Claude Boisset the first French wine company to bottle with screw caps on a Grand Cru red. The wines typically sell for $200 per bottle or more.
"We respect tradition," said Jean-Charles Boisset, vice president of the Nuits-St. Georges-based negociant. "At the same time, we encourage people to consider a new approach if the means are there to improve upon a wine's quality." He did not say, however, if there are plans or a specific timeline for switching all of the production to screw caps. But Boisset has used screw caps on several of its wines since 2003, including a premier cru bottling.
This particular decision, though, came after the Boissets compared the tastes of wines the company founder had bottled as far back as 40 years ago with prototype metal closures, along with traditional corks. The oldest wines compared were 1964 Nuits-St. Georges Premier Cru and 1966 Mercurey. According to Boisset winemaker Gregory Patriat, the wines sealed with the metal closure retained their freshness and fruit better than the cork-sealed bottles. More important, they were consistent and to the same level of quality, whereas the wines cellared under cork suffered significant bottle variation. In the discussions that followed, it became clear that quality and consistency should trump tradition.
Both versions of the 2005 Chambertin will be available in the French and U.K. markets this spring, and shipped to the US later this year. The company also will offer its 2005 Beaune Premier Cru Les Bressandes in screw cap as well as cork. In total, the company produces about 20,000 cases per year in roughly 40 French appellations.
While producers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even some in California have begun to bottle under screw cap for ageworthy red wines, European wineries have been much more cautious. While some French producers have moved to screw-cap closures for wines with a Grand Cru appellation (including Domaine Laroche in Chablis and Domaine Paul Blanck in Alsace and Chateau Couhins-Lurton in Bordeaux), they've only done so only on their white wines."We are convinced by the qualities of this type of closure and not afraid to pursue this strategy," said Patriat. "The future of great wines is with screw caps."