On the Vine


The biggest local wine event of the spring is coming up soon, not on the East End, but in Brooklyn, that great borough of New York City where an enthusiasm for wine has been fostered by generations of Italian families who fermented wine in their urban basements.

This soirée, “Brooklyn Uncorked,” will be held on Wednesday, May 14, from 4 to 8 p.m. at BAM Café. With the cooperation of the Long Island Wine Council, it’s hosted by Edible East End magazine and its new sister publication, Edible Brooklyn, in keeping with their avowed missions to “transform the way communities shop for, cook, eat, and relate to the food that is grown and produced in their area.”

The Edible magazines, which are given out free at many locations and also sold by subscription, “strive to put a face on every farmer as [they] tell their stories and champion their efforts toward a more sustainable and safe food system.” And they do it in a classy way.

Many of the East End’s farmers and vintners will be there in person. The event features a broad range of wines from 30 Long Island vineyards, and visitors will also be able to taste local craft beers and chow down on sample flavors from Brooklyn’s favorite restaurants, cheesemongers, sorbeteers and grub artisans.

Is a sorbeteer like a mouseketeer? And what’s a grub artisan? You’ll have to go to Brooklyn to find out. This event sold out fast last year, so go ahead, visit www.ediblebrooklyn.net and get your tickets ($50).

Speaking of “uncorked,” the worldwide trend toward replacing wine corks with screw caps (aka “Stelvin closures”) has reached Long Island. The Massoud family, owners of Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue (and recently honored by Cornell Cooperative Extension at its Good Earth Gala), just installed the region’s first bottling line with screw cap technology.

They are celebrating their winery’s 25th anniversary with this audacious move, releasing the 2007 Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Dry and Semi Dry Riesling and Festival Chardonnay with Stelvin caps. Always known as premium rather than bulk wine producers; always rated among New York’s best winemakers, the Massouds considered making this $100,000 investment a key component in their commitment to producing wines that accurately reflect the pure, bright aromas of their fruit.

Second generation winemaker Kareem Massoud doesn’t mince words when he declares that “Corks are a great closure for wine, except for the fact that they can ruin it.”

A natural product made from the bark of cork trees, cork closures were actually a vast improvement over the wooden plugs wrapped in oil-soaked hemp in common use as wine stoppers well into the 1700s. They became practical for the wine trade after glass bottles of uniform dimensions became available. Widespread problems with corks increased when cork manufacturers began to sterilize them using chlorine, paradoxically stimulating the creation of a moldy-smelling compound known as “cork taint,” or TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole).

Everyone who consumes wine has encountered TCA, whether they acknowledge it or not. According to industry research, anywhere from 3 to 10 percent of cork-finished wines have TCA to some degree. At low levels, it suppresses fruit aromas and can be confused with the nutty smell derived from oak aging.

Some people don’t seem to sense it at all, although most will discern it once it has been pointed out to them as a “wet cardboard” smell. When I myself pick up the tiniest whiff of TCA, I feel like I am locked in a damp closet full of moldy shoes.

As wine consumers have gotten wise to TCA, and retailers have gotten tired of replacing tainted bottles, producers have responded by trying to find better closures. For wines that are generally consumed young, especially for fruity white wines, consumer acceptance of screw caps has greatly improved, to the point where most New Zealand and Australian wines are now finished with them. High end restaurants and hoity-toity places still can’t get past the idea that the sound of a popping cork signals the start of a romantic (or expensive) evening. To serve them, some wineries (including Paumanok) will continue to finish a certain percentage of bottles with cork, especially for age-worthy red wines.

Those who declare allegiance to cork point out that metal closures sometimes do too good a job. Corks slowly allow a tiny bit of oxygen into wine, but screw caps are airtight. With no oxygen, sulfurous compounds derived from fermentation (smelling like burnt rubber) sometimes accumulate in the headspace of Stelvin capped wines, giving them a bit of bottle stink when they are opened.

These “reductive” aromas can be blown off by decanting the bottle, or just by swirling the wine vigorously in the glass. To me, the benefits derived from an absolute absence of TCA more than balance out either a reductive nose or an absence of “pop” in the Stelvin sealed bottle.

Although Premium Wine Group and Martha Clara Vineyards are also preparing to add screw caps to some wines, most wineries on Long Island are still waiting to see how the market for screw capped wines progresses before following the Massouds’ lead. My guess is that consumers will soon ask for Long Island wines with screw caps.

Maybe then “Brooklyn Uncorked” will be called “Brooklyn Unscrewed.”

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