The Wine Capsule Should Go in a Time Capsule

A couple weeks ago, I ranted about the big heavy bottles that some wineries still use as some misguided marketing tool. They apparently think that consumers are easily fooled into thinking that a heavier bottle means better wine.

No! A heavier bottle is both more expensive than it needs to be and much worse for the environment. It amazes me that an industry that is as affected as it is by changes in the climate still has elements among it that are helping to accelerate those changes.

Today, I am ranting about another aspect of wine packaging that makes absolutely no sense: the wine capsule. The capsule is the 1-2 inch covering on the top of the bottle that was introduced a century or so ago to address a real problem: to prevent rodents and insects from eating the corks, which they apparently found quite tasty.

Today, if you are worried about rats or cork weevils, you have much bigger problems than can be solved by a tin sleeve on the top of your wine bottles.

There was another purpose, particularly with bottles of champagne: the capsule was used to conceal the varying levels of wine in the bottle, which were typically filled by hand. Again, that is less relevant today since most (all?) wineries use mechanized systems to fill bottles.

Originally, the capsules contained a fair amount of lead, which, apparently, was designed to get into the bloodstreams of the various varmints and, well, kill them. A few wise people realized that the lead was also probably pretty bad for humans (and for the landfills where the capsules would end up) and it was banned from wine capsules in the mid-1990s. Capsules are now made of either tin, aluminum, or, ugh, plastic, which is the last thing this beleaguered planet needs.

Today, capsules are strictly decorative–they serve no real practical purpose. (I have seen arguments that they are useful for wines held for over a decade, and even if that were true, that is likely less than 1-2% of wine made today. Another claim is that the capsule helps catch errant drops of wine while pouring. My response? Simple: Learn how to pour, genius.)

The good news is that there are increasingly more producers who realize that capsules are stupid and that they add cost without any benefit.

Over the last few months, I have been reviewing wines that have undergone the rather rigorous Sustainability In Practice (SIP) Certification. While many of these wines contained capsules, the program is designed to get wineries to examine their wine production focusing on the future of the planet and all its inhabitants.

Hopefully, they will soon adopt the stance that the wine capsule is obsolete (and stupid) and will encourage its retirement.

2017 McIntyre Vineyards Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands: Retail $28. Although I have never visited the winery in Sebastopol (at least as far as I can remember), I have a bit of familiarity with the wines as they have been sending me samples for a couple of years now. Without exception, I have been impressed with the wines from this Chardonnay and Pinot house (they also do a bit of Merlot and a sparkling wine). This is another case in point: spicy pear and Tarte Tatin are buoyed by vanilla and the suggestion of oak. I know just mentioning “oak” will freak a few people out, but if you know someone like that, you should drop them as a friend, and if you are someone like that, you just need to get over it–this is a lovely wine. The palate is rich and tasty with good fruit and zingy acidity, this is a solid wine at any price and at $28, I consider it a bargain, and the winery definitely warrants a visit soon. Excellent. 90-92 Points.

2018 McIntyre Vineyards Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands: Retail $24. 100% Pinot Noir. When I tasted this blind back in June, for the Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosé in the World, I wrote this: “Pink with some orange tint. Fairly light. Bubblegum and a bit of peach. OK fruit and really nice flavors, I am guessing that this might be a saignée since it is on the round side.” [Wrong: it’s a True Rosé]

I had mistaken it for (potentially) being a saignée, but no one is perfect. This bottle holds mainly true to that original note, but I find this wine to be a bit more tart and decidedly less round. I’m bumping it up a notch. Excellent. 91-93 Points.

2018 Niner Wine Estates Albariño Jespersen Vineyard, Edna Valley, CA: When I visited the Edna Valley a couple of years ago, I was impressed with Niner Estates–they seemed in tune with both their position in the community and their role as stewards for the land. Each Niner wine that I open causes me to recall that visit, as I did with this wine. Brilliant yellow in the glass with aromas of melon and guava, with a poignant acidity but also a roundness that coats the mouth with tropical goodness. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.

2018 Opolo Albariño, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $26. I have opined here (hopefully poetically) that I have tried earnestly to dislike Opolo (it’s a fairly big winery complete with restaurant, golf cart tours, and the like, which I personally find as turn-offs), but I can’t. First, the winery is actually a fun place to visit–the food in the restaurant is excellent, the golf cart tour is beautiful and fun, and people genuinely seem to have a complete blast there. Oh. And the wine is really, really good. This Albariño is no exception. Pale straw with exotic fruit and white flower perfumed aromas. Whoa. The palate is rich, a bit unctuous, fruity, tart, and luscious–a lot going on here–but it is decidedly delightful. Spanish Albariño is usually aromatic, sure, but also lithe and reserved. This ain’t that. And I completely dig it. Excellent to Outstanding. And Whoa. 92-94 Points.

2018 Opolo Viognier, Central Coast, CA: Retail $25. Another fantastic wine from Opolo. Viognier is a bit of an enigma for me; when it is done well, it is lovely, but when it isn’t done right? Yikes. This is from the former: the wine is good, very good, excellent even, with tropical fruit notes, a luscious Viognier body, but also a tart, almost bracing acidity. The finish is lengthy and flavorful. I give up. I love you Opolo! Excellent. 91-93 Points.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Albariño, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

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