John Benedetti
December 18, 2023 | News and Reviews | John Benedetti

Seeking Closure(s)

From day 1 of Sante Arcangeli Family Wines I have set out to make only top-shelf, high quality wines without exception. Early on, one of the key principles that I adopted was the use of high quality natural cork to seal my bottles. My thinking on this was that the top-tier natural cork had more structural integrity than less expensive cork, and would therefore be more consistent. Adding to that, I have always paid an extra 15¢ per cork for 1-by-1 TCA testing.  This brings the price of an individual cork up over $1. That's a lot.

But, as I've now been making wine for a decade and a half, I've now been able to see the results of this decision when tasting some of my older wines. And I'm not always happy with the results.

While 1-by-1 TCA testing has done a lot to resolve issues of cork taint in my wines (it's down from 3-4% of bottles to around 1% or less), the natural cork, however high-end, has not resolved the issue of bottle variation during aging. Natural cork has many merits: it's renewable, it's beautiful-looking and... well... it's natural.  But that very thing means it is naturally unique, from one cork to the next. If one cork has a few more abberations in the grain than another, that will affect the OTR (oxygen through rate) of the cork. More oxygen ingress in a wine results in different aging. So one bottle that's 5-10 years old can be radically different than another bottle of the exact same wine.

Now, I am someone who loses sleep worrying whether a customer will buy a bottle of my wine, age it properly, and then be disappointed with the results. It drives me completely nuts.

Lately I've been on a quest for greater consistency across the board, and closures have been on the forefront of this. With the 2022 Chardonnay, I experimented with Saranex screwcaps for the first time, and so far I have been happy with the results, though it is early-on in that wine's life right now. Screwcaps these days are mildly permeable-- Saranex has an OTR of 0.7mg O2/year. Screwcap OTRs are consistent from one to the next, which is a good thing because that permeability allows the wine to further develop in the bottle. Natural cork, however, according to a 2015 Wine Business Monthly report summarizing several industry studies, "can have extremely variable OTR, due to the intrinsic structural variability of cork itself (Godden et al. 2001).  Measures (Lopes et al. 2005 and 2006) under conditions of humidity simulating those occurring in a wine bottle indicate values between 0.05-3.35 mg of oxygen per year even for a very limited sample size."  That's a really wide range of OTR values, which would result in wildly different results while aging exactly the same wine. One bottle might be fantastic and the very next one might be completely oxidized.

Other closures, like Nomacorc-- which is made from sugarcane-- offer varying OTR rates across their product lines which are fairly consistent from "cork" to "cork" (quotes because they're not actually made from cork). One Nomacorc, product, for example, advertises OTR of 0.3 mg of O2 after 3 months, 0.4 mg of O2 after 6 months, 0.7 mg of O2 after 12 months and 0.6 mg of O2 per year, after the first year. Some studies have shown though that they're less consistent than screwcaps because of mild variations in the manufacturing process. Nevertheless, this is a closure option I hope to test out soon, one that is far more consistent than natural cork.

Good things are being said about DIAM enclosures lately, and they appear to have eliminated cork taint and are providing consistent OTR across their product line. Personally, I'm just not a fan of the aesthetic of microagglomerated corks.

What all of this means is this: you will be seeing a change in coming vintages. For the time being, I will be continuing to use screw caps for Chardonnay and Rosé, as so far I am liking the freshness I'm getting from the slower OTR of Saranex in these wines. I am considering going to screw caps for Integrato Pinot Noir as well. I will likely be moving to Nomacorc or screw caps for the single vineyard Pinot Noir as well at some point. These changes are in no way cheapening the product.  Quite the opposite: more consistent closures will allow me to provide you all with a more consistent product that ages the way I want it to, every time. That's the goal, and I'm chasing it.


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