Cork vs Stelvin: A 10 Year Test


One of these things, is not like the other….



Just over 10 years ago Tinhorn Creek Winery was the first winery in Canada to bottle with a screw cap (stelvin). According to winemaker Sandra Oldfield, they bottled bottled 10% of their inagural vintage of the Oldfield’s Collection Merlot (2001) with the screwcap and the remainder with cork. A portion of each wine bottled in screwcap and cork to evaluate side by side in 10 years. Now, 10 years later, I was one of the fortunate Cork vs Stelvin 2001 Oldfield’s Collection Merlot taste testers.

As a wine geek, this type of tasting is right up my alley. Not only do I get to evaluate the exact same high-quality wine in two different closures, I get to try Okanagan Merlot 10 years old – a rarity in our baby of a wine region.

As wine matures, it loses its primary fruit flavours and gains secondary and even tertiary characteristics. Not all wine will age, mind you – the structure (I like to call it the stuffing) has to be present. The wine’s ageability is influenced by grape variety, vintage, viticultural practices, wine region and winemaking style. Of course, the condition that the wine is kept in after bottling can also influence how well a wine ages.

Only a few wines have the ability to significantly improve with age. Master of Wine Jancis Robinson notes that only around the top 10% of all red wine and top 5% of all white wines can improve significantly enough with age to make drinking more enjoyable at 5 years of age than at 1 year of age. Additionally, Robinson estimates, only the top 1% of all wine has the ability to improve significantly after more than a decade. In her expert opinion, wine is consumed too old, rather than too young, and that the great majority of wines start to lose appeal and fruitiness after 6 months in the bottle.

These wines had certainly lost their fruitiness with a decade in glass. I would reckon that these inaugural bottlings of Oldfield Series Merlot would have peaked about 5 years ago. Though past prime, both showed faint dried fruit – a little dusty cherry on the palate. The stelvin bottle, a faded purple tinge in the glass, had some dark plum tightness, and a little firmer texture in the mouth. The cork bottle, more tawny toned, had more loosely layered and nuanced flavours of cured meats and mineral, and less whiff of fruit. Both had bright acidity on the finish.

I’ve had this wine numerous times in current release – right now it’s the 2008 vintage, under stelvin. Plush, deep vanillin plum and herbal cassis characterize this wine for me. I love the dense fruitiness of this wine, and the stelvin will help preserve that pure fruit through time. This wine, like the vast majority of wines produced today, are meant to be drunk within a few years of release, so the preservation of that fruit is important. And one very reassuring point for consumers (and the winery!) is that no cork means no cork taint or ‘corked’ wine to disrupt your dinner.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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