'I'm always being asked the question about how well wines age under screw cap," says Matt Patterson-Green, winemaker for Jackson Estate in Marlborough.
"I'll tell you that I reckon it's more of a 'linear' effect under screw cap, as opposed to the humps and hollows of ageing under cork."
Humps and hollows, peaks and troughs - that's how the different stages of ageing and quality for a wine are often described. Phrases like "Aw, she's in a bit of a dip right now," or "This wine is on the upward stretch of the bell curve", are not unusual in this business.
Popular opinion is pretty much unanimous that screw caps have, since their surge in popularity in the early 2000s, singlehandedly saved New Zealand's sauvignon blanc industry. There's no question they protect and preserve those lipsmacking lime, passionfruit and herbaceous characters we love - but for how long? I've always been in the "unless it's been barrel fermented don't keep sauvignon blanc for longer than two years, drink it while it's young and crunchy" camp.
So my taste buds began doing backflips when, at the Jackson Estate 25th birthday celebrations earlier this month, Matt brought out two bottles of their sauvignon blanc, both from the same 2002 vintage, one with a cork seal and one a screw cap. "Back then we were hugely curious about screw caps and all the benefits they had to offer - so we bottled half a tank of sav under cork, the other under screw cap - and here are our oldest results. Tell us what you think please."
In my experience, any sauvignon blanc after 13 years in the bottle is bound to be a bit ropey no matter how it's bottled. But the differences between these two were insane. The Jackson Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002 (cork) had that unmistakable aroma of canned peas and canned asparagus. It also looked darker, more golden in the glass than the screw-capped version on the left. The mouthfeel was broad and slightly angular, leaving a "hollow" feel on the finish. I could detect a faint suggestion of nectarine stone and peach juice - but sadly it wasn't enough to have me reaching for another sip. The Jackson Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002 (screw cap) still had attractive lemon verbena, lemonade, white pepper and nectarine notes on the nose and some classic herbaceous, nettle-like flavours, hints of sugar-snap pea and some wet stone, mineral characters on the finish. It's getting a bit tired, but it had fullness and decent length - something I wasn't expecting.
"They're both VERY good examples of fruit development and degradation under the two closures," shrugs Matt.
Though 25 years may not seem like a long time to celebrate a life in wine - when compared to the pioneers from Eastern Europe who set up vineyards around Auckland 50, 70, 80-odd years ago it's a long time in Marlborough terms.
In fact, Jackson Estate's new owner, John Benton (who took over from original owners John and Jo Stitchbury), was involved with Frank Yukich (founder of Montana) way back in 1973 when Yukich bought land to plant the very first sauvignon vines in Marlborough. I'll be looking at their new release wines over the coming weeks.
SIPS OF THE WEEK
Mills Reef Estate Hawke's Bay Merlot Cabernet 2013, $18
Winemaker Paul Dawick has crafted a spicy, rib-sticking, velvety-smooth red with a dusting of vanilla, cocoa and comforting cough drop character around the edges.
Plump, nicely balanced and loaded with dark fruit flavours, it's a must for those late afternoon autumn barbecues. www.millsreef.co.nz
Selaks Founders Limited Edition Hawke's Bay Pinot Gris 2014, $26
If you prefer your pinot gris on the dry, flinty side then this nashi-laden number will have you smiling. It's layered with florals, white stonefruit and yellow plum notes on the nose and palate that soak through into a mineral spectrum, leaving a splash of white pepper and anise on the finish. There's also a warm, slightly spirituous, sake-like, textural character that I really like. www.selaks.co.nz
Gladstone Vineyard Rose 2014, $25
With its pretty salmon colour and nose bursting with melon, fresh raspberry, red plum and sexy spearmint leaf notes it'll have you at the first sniff. Crisp, with a splash of spicy complexity and leaving a lovely lightness on the finish it's a super-sippable example from the Wairarapa. Excellent with smoked seafood of any description. gladstonevineyard.co.nz