Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Buttonwoods and Corks

Last weekend was a Buttonwood weekend, to be sure. My girlfriend and I are members of precisely one wine club, that of Buttonwood Farm Winery in Santa Ynez. If price were no object, then we might opt for a winery that sell its wines at a higher price point, or multiple wine clubs for that matter. But Buttonwood has a lot going for it: a varietal Cabernet Franc, a consistent "house style" that eschews the current fashion for massive, super fruity and oaky wines, and no wine over $22.50 (for club members). There's also a consistent aroma in their wines which I suspect might be a hint of Brettanomyces, but that I'm happy to simply chalk up to terroir as it's a smell that I find curiously enjoyable in the context of the wine. Buttonwood may not have any wines capable of producing an epiphany, but its wines do have a distinct character and a sense of purity unencumbered by heavy oak treatment or other manipulation. This is quite an accomplishment at such a modest price.

Friday night we revisited the Buttonwood 2003 Cabernet Franc. This was the wine that got me started on Cab Franc. My palate has evolved since first tasting this wine, but it held up surprisingly well to the evolution of time, both in terms of the contents of the bottle and new experiences in the taster's mind. What I hadn't noticed originally was a little bit of sweetness hanging in there. But everything that I've learned I like in a wine was there: mellow tannins, well-integrated alcohol, an acidic backbone, herbal and earthy tones, red cherry and raspberry flavors, and a subdued floral characteristic. This was a pleasurable, balanced wine that never tired the palate.

Saturday we went to the vineyard to pick up the November wine club shipment and to taste a vertical of their Bordeaux-styled Trevin, a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting was actually held inside their winery and featured the 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003 vintages of Trevin. What stood out most, perhaps, was that the 1997 vintage seemed fresher than either the 1999 or 2000 vintages. Perhaps not coincidentally, I noticed after tasting the vertical that the '97 Trevin was the only vintage finished with a natural cork. Every vintage after '97 was sealed with a synthetic cork.

Having read "The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass" by British wine expert Jamie Goode, I'm aware of the pros and cons of different closures. Natural cork provides a nearly ideal seal, but can often taint wine with TCA, giving it a moldy, musty smell. Synthetic corks are taint-free, but don't seal as well as natural corks, allowing wine to oxidize more rapidly. Screw caps offer perhaps the best of both worlds, but aren't as aesthetically appealing and can't be applied in a bottling line that is set up for cork closures.

Thus, my suspicion is that Buttonwood's wines may not be ideally suited for long-term bottle aging because of their choice of closure. However, Buttonwood tends to release its red wines 4 to 6 years after harvest, with a significant chunk of that time devoted to barrel aging. They're usually ready to drink upon release because they've had some time to settle down. In fact, the winery website notes that they stopped using natural cork because of excessive TCA taint, and are less concerned with the potential problems of synthetic corks because most consumers drink their wine within a year of purchase.

I suppose I'll follow their lead. If the wine is ready to drink upon release, then I'll certainly be happy to enjoy it in the short term!


CCO said...

Is "Wine Science" worth the purchase? Would you recommend it as a gift to an experienced wine connoisseur or a novice (or both)? Is a background in science necessary?

Sorry for all the questions. I'm considering getting it for Grete's dad, who, as you already may know, has run a winery for many years. I may just buy it for myself, though.

CabFrancoPhile said...

I didn't know Grete's dad runs a winery. Sweet.

The Science of Wine toes the line pretty well between being a full-on textbook and a more general interest book. I think there's enough science in there to entertain scientists, but not too much science to bog down non-scientists. I'd look at it as a text for a survey course.

Most of the topics are really just introduced and discussed over a few pages. So it's not like there are comprehensive, detailed diagrams of all the various trellising techniques or balanced chemistry equations. But there's enough there to answer "why does my wine smell like cow poop" or "why does my wine smell like tar."

CCO said...

Thanks for that.

Yeah, Ted is featured here (old) and more recently here and here (Sauce magazine).

BTW, I'm a huge fan of the screw cap. I think it's catching on and will eventually trump tradition.

CabFrancoPhile said...

I like the following quote from Grete's dad in the Shawnee Hills AVA article: "I predict that Cabernet Franc is our best red to come."

Yet another reason to love Cabernet Franc. It can ripen fully in a cooler climate, unlike so many of its less hardy relatives.

CCO said...

I'm glad you saw that quote. I almost pointed it out for you.

I'm stoked for the PSU-MSU game. The snow should add a nice touch.