User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Sunday Serendipity

By Charles Olken

You might well ask why a man sporting a beard would write a column called Thoughts While Shaving. After all, if a person has given up shaving, the chances are that he does not do much thinking while staring at himself in a steam-covered mirror, his face slathered with white foam. On the other hand, just because I have eschewed the razor does not mean that I have given up thinking. But, would you read a column called “Thoughts While Watching The Jets-Colts Game”, or “Thoughts While Bed-Ridden”, which both I and my sidekick, Steve Eliot, happen to be this evening. So, this assortment of random thoughts about the wine world is “Thoughts While Shaving”.


My buddy, Steve Heimoff, of the Wine Enthusiast and his own eponymous blog of which I am a great fan, recently commented in said blog that he would not make predictions for 2011 because that was a good way to be wrong, and wrong on the record. Lying here between events in today’s football games and thinking, while under the influence of strong drugs, I will defy the odds and make my own predictions—no explanations, no justifications and no shame. I may feel differently tomorrow, but by then, you will have read these words and I won’t be able to take them back.


Item: The continuing push to open up wine-shipping laws is going to have limited but useful successes in the next year because some state legislatures will put their citizens ahead of the existing distribution system. I wish I could predict great success, but, frankly, these “big business vs. the little man” movements make progress in crablike fashion. Have faith, my readers, sooner or later, the rules are going to change in your favor.


This is the year in which the price spiral reverses its downward trend. Already, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that once sold for $4500 a ton and last year was picked up for $1500, is back on the market at $3500. If you were enjoying 2010 because it offered the occasional amazing deal, you might want to seek whichever of them come on the market in the next few months because the end of the year will leave only the true leftovers available to bargain hunters.


If you see any decent wine with a plastic cork in 2011, you can be sure that it is either from a winery that cares more for a cheap plug than for a decent closure—or it is a winery that has not got the message yet. Real cork has weathered the storm of its own failures by resorting to quality control measures that have now reduced the incidence of failure from 3-5% to less than 1%. Of course, those bad results of ten and twenty years ago did invite all kinds of alternative closures into existence. The one that makes the most sense to me, and has convinced me, despite my prejudices, of its worth is the screwcap. Used correctly, for wines meant to be drunk young, I now favor this form of closure. It works. It is easy to remove. I have become used to it. It is not just for plonk anymore.


OK, so I broke my word. There is more discussion than I expected to offer and less pure speculative prediction. But, here is one prediction on which I think you can count. Within the next year, Connoisseurs’ Guide will load and make available to its subscribers, every review we have put in print since our inception in 1974. When it finally arrives, the CGCW data base of past reviews will go back further than any other in print anywhere. You can take that prediction to the bank, folks.


by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:1/9/2011 8:17:30 AM

As a Colts fan I'm kind of glad I was working yesterday and missed that game....heartbreaking. I did however have a plastic closure issue though. I was pouring sparkling wines at our tasting one of which is a sparkling Malbec...under plastic closure. First of all it was damn near impossible to get the damn thing out of the bottle. I'm no slouch when it comes to opening bubbly but for that I had to use one of the keys to get the "cork" out of the bottle. Now one might think that having that wad of plastic jammed in there so tight that you had to use a tool to get it out that the wine would be super fresh and bubbly....not. One bottle was funky and three others were just barely bubbly. So I'm with you, veto the plastic.


Pretty amazing to have all your reviews going back that far available to your subscribers. What a wonderful resource....both the reviews and you sir. Get better Charlie, we miss you!

by jason carey
Posted on:1/10/2011 9:05:42 AM


I have had some older Aussie wines under screcap, and frankly, they should be used for wines that need aging as well. Why does every technology become embraced except the outdated romantic cork? As for plastic "corks" they are a wine-ruining disaster, even for very young to be drunk wines.

by Ron Saikowski
Posted on:1/10/2011 4:53:17 PM

You have omitted the glass closure and the Zork in your review of closures. I assume it is because those closures have not made it into widespread distribution. However, glass clsoures are finding distirubtion with German Rieslings. Results are still to be viewed on the Zork.


One major change this year will be in wine vessels. Lighter glass bottles will be the cue for less carbon footprint. Boxes, kegs, and plastic bags are also coming into vogue. Let's see what this year brings!

Glass Closures
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/10/2011 11:37:55 PM

I rather like the look and functioning of the glass enclosures. I have not seen any long term studies, but if Riesling will age, and I like older Rieslings when they have lost their baby fat, then I will sign on.

"glass" closures
by John
Posted on:1/13/2011 9:57:16 AM

The Vino-Seal glass stopper actually uses a skinny plastic ring at the juncture of the top of the "plug" and the grip top to provide the actual seal. It will be interesting to see if they seal better than the plastic tampons but I would be mightily surprised to find they seal as well as a screw cap.

I'm not sold on the Zork - it looks like it combines all the disadvantages of the plastic tampon with the inferior esthetics of the screw cap. I'd be happy to be proven wrong. 

Screwcaps certainly prevent any oxidation during aging - even the beneficial kind. Screwcaps certainly have no issues with TCA, but they do have extractible plasticizers, and a hefty carbon footprint. But more important, the changes that occur during aging under screwcap will never be anything but neutral to negative - it is impossible for the screwcap to contribute any beneficial chemistry to the aging process.

Natural bark corks (whole pieces, not the "technical" or agglomerated abominations) may be described as "romantic" but they are in no way "outdated." Real cork is no more outdated then wood barrels. Both forms of wood contribute extractables to the wine that most tasters like the aroma and flavor of, and from an aging standpoint these compounds contribute to chemistry that can result in intereting new aromas and flavors during maturation. Plastic can't do that.

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.