I was standing on a Tuscan hilltop with one of the region's great winemakers, Paolo de Marchi, when the call came through from his importer, Liberty Wines' David Gleave MW. "David's unhappy," said Paolo. "At a wine dinner last night, two of my Isole e Olena chianti classicos were corked." He was talking, of course, about the problem of cork taint, which has become so prevalent that producers have been forced to find alternatives such as plastic, glass, and, most notably, the screwcap.
Europe has been slow in communicating the screwcap's ability to bring freshness and freedom from cork taint and random oxidation, nowhere more so than Italy. In the time-honoured name of tradition, the Ministerial Decree of 7 July, 1993, allows Italian producers to use only cork on DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wines, and their sub-zones. A handful of DOC zones, such as Soave and Valpolicella, have managed to amend their regulations to permit their wines to be bottled under screwcap. Yet the Ministerial Decree overrides these amendments, so DOC sub-zones such as Soave Classico and Valpolicella Classico are stuck with cork.
A number of top producers such as Nino Pieropan have dropped Classico status in order to use screwcap for some of their wines. Initially reluctant to abandon Classico, Nino has become an advocate of the screwcap, using it to preserve the freshness in the 2011 Pieropan Soave DOC 2011, £12-£12.99, Highbury Vintners (020-7226 1347), Noel Young Wines, Cambridge (01223 566744), a delightfully crisp and fragrant dry white made from the local garganega grape with a bouquet of lemon blossom and a delicately dry finish. After experimenting for five years, Andrea Felluga, too, has embraced the screwcap, taking the 2011 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio DOC Colli Orientali, £24.95, Lea & Sandeman, to a new level of exotic nectarine and pineapple fruitiness.
The wrong-headed notion that screwcaps are fine, but only for everyday wines, has been turned on its head by de Marchi. "My primary objective is to preserve the purity of fruit. Sangiovese has a complex yet delicate fruit character and wines under screwcap show a purer, more focused fruit, and certainly more consistency. In my view, the choice of closure has little to do with the certification of origin. Certification should be based on the quality of the wine itself, including the purity of its expression of both variety and place."
Closed with a screwcap, his Super Tuscan red, the 2008 Isole e Olena Cepparello IGT Toscana, £58.99, Liberty Wines (020-7720 5350), is the quintessence of sangiovese, a flawlessly silky red of mulberry-fruit quality laced with liquorice-spicy undertones and savoury freshness. Like the other wines that have eschewed cork for screwcap, it makes a mockery of myopic Italian bureaucracy.