Pulling the cork on sparkling wine

When I recently learned that wine company Evan & Tate had produced its Zamphire sparkling wine with a plastic re-sealable closure I instantly thought of my father. I remembered his apoplectic outburst when I told him that I had discovered a champagne bottle re-sealing device. I jubilantly explained that you could reseal a bottle of champagne after a few glasses and it would keep pretty well until later. “What a waste of money – why on earth would you do that – drink the damned thing that’s why it was made,” came the response.

Conceivably E&T’s new fangled re-sealable and recyclable plastic stopper – which still allows for that heart warming pop – may not have appealed to Mr White senior. He never really got his head around the notion that decent bubbles could emanate from anywhere else than champagne in France.

My father was a dapper gentleman of the fourth estate and something of a partying legend. Knocking back a few flutes with the Hollywood set and even the original Champagne Charlie (Charles Heidsieck) were a day in the life for him. This was a man who used to ply me with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot after my weekly driving lessons. I was never sure if 750 ml of “The Widow” was to set him up for the Saturday night or to steady his nerves after a white-knuckled session with an L-plated me at the wheel. He once bleated that he’d had an appalling day, where his car had been stolen (it later miraculously appeared in his driveway) and that the light had gone out in his fridge and he was finding it hard to pick the good from the local stuff (champagne/sparkling wine). But local stuff with a re-sealable stopper? He’d be revolving in his grave.

Zamphire is an interesting sparkler – a blanc de blanc in its way – in that it’s a zingy number made from chardonnay and chenin blanc blended from four vintages to add complexity.

Using a closure other than cork for Zamphire is a considered initiative and not surprising. It is a brand not steeped in heritage – so there isn’t any of the argy bargy about the stigma of changing from traditional cork. When (if ever) will Grange or Hill of Grace adopt screw cap? There is pomp and circumstance involved with the removal of a cork from a premium bottle regardless of the possibility of cork taint.

The issues with cork taint (TCA … 246 … Trichloroanisole) can influence any wine with a cork, although it is possible for this chemical compound to have been in a barrel or elsewhere in a winery. But corks are the major culprits with figures bandied around from 5 per cent to 15 per cent of wines being affected. It is a potent and insidious stinky compound. A couple of drops would taint an Olympic swimming pool. The ratio of TCA required to taint has been compared in other terms as one second in 32,000 years. Powerful stuff! And a wine’s reputation and opportunity for repeat purchase can be dashed by TCA derived bad experiences.

My father’s ashes were watered in with a bottle of Bolly, unleashed from its glass prison by the removal of a cork – and it was French, perfectly sound and was emptied in one go.

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