Cork making a comeback


A while back we made the observation that some of New Zealand's most prestigious wines are still being sealed under cork.

As wine reviewers we've often argued that a good quality cork closure is superior to the screw cap, because the wine tastes as the winemaker intended immediately upon opening. Wines under screw cap need some time, at least an hour, in a decanter or jug to enable them to more fully reveal their aromas and flavours.

These observations are expressed against a background of widespread industry dissatisfaction with cork, based on the fact that back in the pre-screw cap day, New Zealand winemakers were frustrated by the amount of wine that was spoiled by cork taint.

Lars Jensen demonstates the lightness of the glass bottles Richmond Plains is now using
Lars Jensen demonstates the lightness of the glass bottles Richmond Plains is now using

Local winemakers were being sent corks subject to little quality control and possibly even inferior quality, which simply wouldn't have been accepted by our winemaking counterparts in the northern hemisphere.

With all this in mind it was interesting to read what Tony Bish, winemaker at Sacred Hill, had to say as he unveiled his impressive and highly covetable Special Selection range.

He says of this year's releases: “You will notice one significant change; after considerable thought we have returned to using cork closures for Special Selection wines. In the 10 years since we have been using the screw cap, the quality of cork available to us has improved dramatically. We now purchase individually, hand-selected corks to ensure we receive the finest grade. They then undergo stringent cork taint testing to further ensure their quality.”

Special Selection wines are of consistently high quality from vintage to vintage and they are a welcome addition to our cellars.

Mr Bish goes on to say in the more mature and traditional markets cork is still the preferred and more prestigious closure for the collector looking to cellar wines for the medium to long term. Gimblett Gravels produces wines of tremendous structure and integrity that have repeatedly held their own with comparative tastings - even with First Growth Bordeaux.

We believe cork closures will see these exceptional wines evolve in a more progressive and expansive way.

When we consider the number of wines that we sample and note as having a tight aroma and a palate that lacks varietal definition - only to return to the wine half to an hour later to find it has blossomed, one gets the impression that as wine drinkers start thinking about what they consume - a shift from simply knocking back a glass after work, there will be a call for a closure that is better than the screw cap. Maybe we will go a full circle back to high quality cork and, in doing so, do something environmentally friendly. There are whole ecosystems and economies based on the cork industry that are in decline due to the emergence of the screw cap.

To our mind a quality, living, breathing, evolving substance such as wine needs a closure of the same nature.

For those who argue screw caps are so much easier to open, it pays to remember that sometimes the best things in life result from a little extra effort!

Sacred Hill Helmsman 2010 ($84.99)

This blend of 45 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 44 per cent merlot and 11 per cent cabernet franc is opaque, a deep purple red on a black background.

The soft, dark berry fruit aroma delivers some gentle woody notes, floral with some gentle herbal, leather and ripe plum notes - ripe and concentrated.

The intense, concentrated yet elegant palate has firm tannins and supporting acid spine. The ripe, elegant fruitiness is set against some classy oak work. Finely textured yet rich, perfumed, sweet and delivering a powdery chocolate note and slightly feral towards the finish, there is much to be said about this wine. The finish lingers long.

A wine to enjoy now or cellar with confidence - 10 years wouldn't be too much to ask of this stellar wine.

Sacred Hill Brokenstone 2010 ($49.99)

A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and cabernet franc.

Earth, plum and chocolate aromas with some savoury, peppery notes that are subtle and well integrated.

The palate is smooth as silk, luscious and lively with black berry, floral and chocolate flavours supported by ripe, smooth tannins.

It is a wine of substance that is both muscular and easy to drink. We loved the earthy, black cherry and sultana aftertaste.

Quite a buy at just $49.99

The Sacred Hill Special Selection range is available from fine wine retailers or go to

Richmond Plains Nelson Monarch rose 2011 ($19.99)

With summer getting closer (fingers crossed), thoughts turn to those bright and lively roses that are synonymous with relaxing in the late afternoon sunshine.

This particular rose is a gloriously deep terracotta red and has a light berry fruit aroma.

Tingly acids, crisp citrus and berry fruit flavours blend with a richer note of butter caramel towards the finish. This wine has some serious weight and fruit power for a rose. Spice, strawberries and dry herbal notes linger on the finish and leave you wanting more. A delight at the price. Go to to order.

For those interested in the impact of packaging on the environment, Richmond Plains has released its Nelson Monarch rose in New Zealand's lightest 750ml glass bottle, but more about this at a later date.

The Marlborough Express