Screw Caps and Syrah

By / Magazine / September 9th, 2009 / 2

Tell me the truth — what do you really think about screw caps on wine bottles?

The truth? Do you think you can handle the truth? Though I’m a hip wine cat there’s still a place in my heart for some of those charming wine traditions of old, and corks certainly meet all the requirements.

While not perfect, centuries of use have secured them the edge (for now) when it comes to the long-term aging of fermented grape juice and, of course, their pulling gives your waiter a chance to get some use out of his acting classes before your appetizer arrives.

But even with a corkscrew collection half a dozen boxes strong packed neatly in my cellar, I’d be honoured to accept your nomination for president of the screw cap fan club.

{loadposition contentad} They just make sense on so many different levels: they eliminate cork taint, they make all whites and fruit-forward reds taste fresher, and the variety of wines using them means I won’t have to bring along a carry-on corkscrew when I travel only to have it confiscated by the charming folks at airport security.

A better question would have been how the heck twist off tops suddenly went from the land of the brown bag to the pages of the restaurant world’s best wine lists.

I say the answer begins in New Zealand where winemakers made a name for themselves pumping out pricey (an universally revered) whites that they refused to release under what they considered to be unreliable tree bark (which is what corks are made of by the way) and ends with media that couldn’t stop writing about these great wines with the lowbrow stoppers. Blame the Kiwis if you hate caps, but I’m not getting any younger so anything that speeds up the time it takes to get wine into my glass is OK by me.



What’s the difference between Petite Sirah, Syrah and Shiraz?

A grape is a grape is a grape, right? Wrong, but in this case (and to get a chance to quote Meat Loaf in a wine column) two out of three ain’t bad.

Let’s start with Syrah. This lovely deep purple piece of fruit earned its winemaking creds in the northern portion of France’s Rhône Valley, which it still calls home. Not one to put down roots in one place for long, it’s had a healthy relationship with much of mainland Europe and South America.

When it hit the vineyards Down Under, the Aussies chewed it up and spat it out as Shiraz and then proceeded to ride its liquid wave all the way to North America, where it became the easy-to-pronounce poster grape for the New World wine revolution.

And then there’s Petite Sirah. Sure, while it may begin with ‘S’ and also have Rhône connections, that’s about as close as she gets to Syrah/Shiraz. Those that choose to dedicate their lives to wine-related CSI swear it’s actually the romantically named Durif. (Just in case you’re wondering why it was decided to call it something else) A California favourite for years, today’s Petite Sirah is making its mark in — wait for it — Australia.

So there you go — one of these things is not like the other. Or, to put it another way, que Syrah, Sirah.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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