10 vintages of screw-caps – with Clotilde Davenne

Update 20.6.2019(2.5.2019)billn

Tasted in Préhy with Clotilde Davenne and team, 20 March, 2019.

Domaine Clotilde Davenne
3, rue de Chantemerle
89800 Préhy
Tel: +33 3 86 41 46 05

My reportage, last year, on the use of DIAM seals – particularly for their (apparent) ability to ward off not just ‘off’ aromas and flavours, but also to stop – or at least delay – the onset of oxidation in whites, was for me, and I hope most consumers of wine, very important. But DIAM is, of-course not the only, long-standing, alternative to ‘natural cork.’

Globally, and very-much market dependent, screw-caps also appear to have much merit. There are some proponents of the use of screw-caps in Burgundy, but the volume of their use could be described as tiny. JC Boisset began to use some screw-caps with their 2007 vintage – they were even described as being ‘provocative’ by the Syndicate of producers from Gevrey-Chambertin, for being the first to bottle a Chambertin in screw-cap. I recently tasted one of their 2007s with this seal – and it was excellent – so the team at JCB were, unsurprisingly, quite disappointed when this approach didn’t take-off and they had to subsequently scale back the amount of wine they produced that was sealed in this way.

Another such producer is Clotilde Davenne of Chablis. Clotilde told me back in January that she has been consistently bottling some of her production with screw-cap since 2004. Having discussed my tasting of older wines sealed with DIAM – which she also uses – Clotilde invited me back to taste a vertical of her wines with screw-cap. An offer that I couldn’t refuse!

The wines…

Since 2004 screw-caps have been used here, always with the same Saranex seal. Clotilde explains; “It’s not the most hermetic – but I’ve always used the same closure. The two bottlings are done the same day and from the same tank so the sulfur regime is also exactly the same – though low sulfur – I use about 25mg free sulfur at bottling. This wine is made from a parcel of vines called Le temps perdu in Courgis, and it’s always the same parcel (except for the Montmains!) and it’s never a big harvest here – 45-50 hl/ha

Now the final score from this tasting for me was a 4-3 win for the screw-cap, with 3 draws. This sounds an incredibly close result, yet there different threads of discussion, different subtexts, that are also important here:

  1. Now it’s pure chance, but we can’t forget that 3 wines were corked – a bizarrely unlucky number from only 10 bottles – but even without oxidation (which one of these showed – the 2009 cork-sealed bottle) we cannot disregard that some winners for team-cork came from replacement bottles…
  2. Not surprising for me was that the aromatics of the screw-cap wines were in almost each case, ‘cleaner’ and fresher than from those bottles sealed with cork.
  3. Analogous to the aromas – it is, perhaps, unsurprising that the flavours of the cork-sealed wines were fuller and less driving than those from the screw-cap wines. What I wasn’t expecting, was that texturally the wines sealed with cork would be the more interesting, silky, rounder and more plush – consistently.

I was surprised that we had so few oxidised wines, I was not surprised that we had corked wines, only the amount that were corked. At first glance the score was close – screw-cap versus cork – but in the wider context of this tasting and the general (often oxidised) market for older wines. I would take the screw-cap wine if it was available – and I can see some proper development of mature flavour too with this seal. I think that my seal of preference remains DIAM, but screw-cap is good too!

2014 Chablis Screw
Hmm – bright, vibrant, fresh aromas of clarity. Open, airy, beautiful clarity and line in the mouth too – perhaps a faint floral – young but completely accessible. A fine mineral diminuendo – über-tasty! Less weight but more clarity to the complexity – less drive than the cork wine that follows.

2014 Chablis Cork
Straight away there’s a little more colour to see. A completely different aromatic – rounder, and perhaps a touch of cork – ouch! Bottle 2 – Still round, perhaps a faint reduction, but lots of freshness of aroma too. Drive, intensity, yes a little reduction, layered. Extra depth to this texture too. This is really excellent. Different but I have no preference. A draw!

The Score: 0-0

2013 Chablis Screw
A deeper colour. Hmm, vibrant, mineral – inviting – ooh that smells good. Wide, mineral the hint of botrytis on the nose, visible on the palate too. Long, beautiful diminuendo to the flavour – excellent 2013.

2013 Chablis Cork
Not much colour difference to the screw. A tighter nose, yet with some depth and salinity – limited in expression compared to the screw. Hmm – a nice depth to this flavour seemingly with a similar but more guarded flavour profile to the screw. The main difference seems to be the calmer, more guarded, expression of flavour. Good length still. I prefer the screw wine.

The Score: 1-0 for the screw, with 1 draw.

2012 Chablis Screw
A little younger colour than the cork-sealed 2012. Hmm – this is less open than the 2013, but clean and starting to show a little evolution – it’s very attractive. Lovely volume in the mouth – easily my favourite of this trio so-far. There is concentration and width of flavour – fine intensity, clarity and some good development of the flavour. Bravo – lovely wine.

2012 Chablis Cork
Hmm, like the other wines with cork, the aromas are more rounded, but wide and attractive – not an overt impression of development of aroma though. Hmm, this is still a young wine, fine texture, almost a touch more of the weight of minerality and texture – I’d hardly guess that it’s the same wine. Really very complex but young. The finish is better here, but overall I still prefer the screw-wine.

The Score: 2-0 for the screw, with 1 draw.

2010 Chablis Screw
Quite a large difference in colour this time – this screwcap wine clearly being the lighter of the two. A less incisive nose – generally more like the cork wines – and here is some more overt development of the aroma. Round, beautiful in the mouth with creamy notes of developed chardonnay flavour over a base of minerality. This is really excellent, still with a hint of finishing bitters – a nice finishing peak of flavour. Excellent!

2010 Chablis Cork
The deeper coloured wine. Wide, a little more overt freshness, less development to the aromas vs the screw wine. Sleek lines, a wine of drive, great texture, supple – the extra depth of texture seems a surprisingly consistent theme for the cork wines, so far. The combination of the texture and fine, mineral, creamy (developed) finish is once-more a little nicer in the corked wine. I’d call this comparison a draw – both have better points – but qualitatively I don’t see one as better than the other.

The Score: 2-0 for the screw, with 2 draws.

2009 Chablis Screw
Much fresher nose than the 2010, if relatively discrete. Lots of fine, fresh volume in the mouth – some creamy development to the flavour, round, pretty flavour of good concentration. Young, but developing, delicious wine – really excellent.

2009 Chablis Cork
The first bottle of this was unfortunately corked! The second with not the greatest nose – some apple and faint oxidation. In the mouth, this is wide, sleek, a touch of tannin at the base – highly drinkable older wine. Lots of finishing weight – good but drink up.

The Score: 3-0 for the screw, with 2 draws.

2008 Chablis Screw
Here not a big colour difference between the two wines. The aromas here are of vibrant, evolved – ready! – wine. Lots of freshness and aromatic complexity, almost a quince fruit here. Mouth-filling fresh wine, quince, cream, complex and completely delicious in this evolved style – really a great finish, still with a faint phenolic lick on the end of the tongue. Bravo!

2008 Chablis Cork
A much deeper nose, less pure quince and more depth – less clarity and interest. Deep-flavoured, wide, complex – lovely minerality – the flavours are far more interesting than the nose. A little less sweetness in the finish but the same phenolic touch to the texture. Long and satisfying – a lovely aged wine, but overall, behind the screw-cap.

The Score: 4-0 for the screw, with 2 draws.

2007 Chablis 1er Montmains Screw
A 1er cru to keep me on my toes!
Practically no difference in colour between these two wines. Hmm, a lovely width of aroma here, not super-overt, but calm and complex – less developed than the 2008. Ooh – silky, almost oily texture – beautiful on the palate, faintly creamy, young and saline – more mineral finishing. Ooh – great, still quite young wine. Bravo!

2007 Chablis 1er Montmains Cork
A touch of toasty reduction on the nose – complex and wide – quite different. Hmm, vibrant, fresh, complex, a little more developed, mouth-watering. Super complexity in the finish – hmm – a photo-finish, but I’ve a slight preference for this particular cork. But another bravo wine!

The Score: 4-1 for the screw, with 2 draws.

2007 Chablis Screw
Much deeper colour than the Montmains. Less interesting faintly oxidative – but this has been opened a couple of days (there are no more!). Direct, fresh, nice line an older wine note at the core but not an overt oxidation. This is okay but a long way behind the Montmains – nice extra creamy accent in the finish.

2007 Chablis Cork
Opened same time as the last – so it’s a fair comparison. Actually a more vibrant nose – it’s very attractive. Fresh direct, young but with a line of mature flavour – fresh complex – ooh really super. The first easy victory for the cork.

The Score: 4-2 for the screw, with 2 draws.

2006 Chablis Screw
Not a big colour difference between these two wines. Hmm, a nose of depth, of development and of modest proportion. Plenty of concentration, wide, modest acidity, depth of flavour a little rustic in delivery but not of overt oxidation – the 2007 and 2008 are both tastier – this is a little full and uncouth. Vibrant if ‘loud’ but long finishing.

2006 Chablis Cork
Hmm – a nicer nose – rounding out excess in any direction. Fresher, like the 2007, driving energy, some quince-style fruit, fuller finishing, but less rustic. Another wine where I’ve a preference for the cork!

The Score: 4-3 for the screw, with 2 draws.

2004 Chablis Screw
The first vintage!
Hmm, this has an endearing combination of freshness and maturity – but not a full-power nose. Hmm – volume, concentration, a salinity, super-fine and complex in the finish – bravo – but also a shame – this is the last screw-cap 04 at the domaine!

2004 Chablis Cork
The first wine was obliterated by cork – rarely is TCA so obvious! Here’s one that’s been open a couple of days – like the 2007 above.
Deep, a little reductive minerality, some development too. Bright, fresh, a wine of drive. Lots of volume, rounder but concentrated like the last – lovely depth of texture – as seemingly always with the cork. Bravo – a draw – two great wines. Two wines that are currently ‘younger’ than the 2007, 2008 and 2010! Another draw.

The Final Score: 4-3 for the screw-cap, with 3 draws.

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

There are 3 responses to “10 vintages of screw-caps – with Clotilde Davenne”

  1. winemaker015th May 2019 at 12:20 amPermalinkReply

    Great work Bill. I have many friends who have stopped buying White Burgundy because of cork issues. A good cork is fantastic but the problem relates to the have variability of a sub 1 euro natural product inducing such massive change to very expensive wine.

  2. Fred Schilling7th May 2019 at 2:46 amPermalinkReply

    It even looks like the expertise in applying screwcaps may have advanced over time as there appears to have been a surge over cork from at least 2008 vintage. Don’t forget to count the financial and reputational cost of those corked bottles in the overall impact, notwithstanding that it’s a bottle v. bottle comparison.

    I would suspect that there are more than a few throughout France that have been trialling screwcaps for some time. It was as recently as the 2004 vintage that Tyrrell’s and McWilliams switched over here in Oz. Following in the footsteps of our forward thinking riesling producers from the late ’90s.

  3. kmilani7th May 2019 at 7:39 pmPermalinkReply

    For maximum enjoyment of a sound old bottle, you prefer it to develop beneath a natural cork, not a screwcap. Conversely, for maximum enjoyment of a sound young wine you prefer it to be under a screwcap rather than cork. This is contrary to what I would have hypothesized.

    This experiment also indicates the biggest threat to the natural cork-stoppered bottles is TCA, not oxidation. No such threat to the screwcap bottles.

    Being a conservative fellow, I would therefore prefer to buy my whites for both early and later consumption with screwcap. However, I want my friends to buy their whites with corks and to always have a bottle in reserve.

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