Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The arrow points . . .

Shaoxing wine

It's funny how quickly screwcaps have become the primary closure for Shaoxing wines - I still have a few bottles (very, very few) that were bottled under cork, but contrary to the debate in wine, all these bottles should be under screwcap. Why? Because it's clearly more appropriate for this type of wine. This all came up, by the way, during an increasingly animated discussion I enjoyed recently with an older family friend about the merits of different types of bottle closures. The conversation quickly devolved into him telling me he knows better because he's lived 30 more years on this earth than I have, and me retorting that I've spit out more wine than he's swallowed.

Shaoxing wine is an oxidized wine made out of rice and other grains - it does not benefit from additional bottle age. What it does benefit from is extended contact on its lees, denoted by the age given on the label. There is no vintage date, but what it will tell you is whether it's been aged for 5 year, 8 years, 10 years . . . with the general understanding that the longer it's been aged before filtering and bottling, the finer it is.

So, under that reasoning, would it not make sense for you to experience Shaoxing wine in its freshest state, very similar to Colheita Port? That you would want the closure to be as airtight as possible, because even the most minute transmission of oxygen will destroy the wine, not help it develop? Just how does an oxidized, otherwise understood as spoiled, wine develop? Not to mention that the corks used by Chinese producers are generally awful. Poor quality, shrivelled closures that I've never managed, ever, to cleanly draw out. And these bottles are usually shaped more like jars - there's no way to lie them flat, and you probably wouldn't want to. Such a poor fit all but guarantees that half the bottle will be tipped out.

The finale to this whole argument is simple. That I'm right and he's a moron is a foregone conclusion - it's that closures have to match the type of drink they're enclosing, rather than be done for some kind of notion that it represents how modern a producer is. Would I happily drink wines out of screwcap? Absolutely. But the evidence has yet to suggest, conclusively, that screwcaps will allow wines to age as gracefully as corks do.

Do you see that arrow on the screwcap? Apparently, Chinese wine producers don't trust that consumers have the good sense to twist the cap in the right direction. Counter-clockwise, follow the arrow you idiot!


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