~Circumstance found me at a family gathering, in the home of one of my wife’s brothers. He’s a fairly successful businessman, and he has a liking for wine. But he has no geeky interest in the product. He simply drinks wine with his meals and to relax. In fact, he has no knowledge of wine beyond the ones he likes to drink.
~Unfortunately, his lack of knowledge leaves him doing something that, according to us wine professionals, one should never do.
My brother-in-law stores his wines in a rack, in the kitchen.~My brother-in-law receives many gifts from associates; one of them is wine, and many of those wines wind up on his rack in the kitchen, a fact that made me particularly nervous when he invited me to pick any red wine I wanted to open and that I thought would delight the group. On the rack was a bottle of a Bordeaux wine from the 1983 vintage.
His wine rack is not next to the stove or refrigerator, but still, a kitchen can get quite warm, making it a candidate for the worse room in the house to store wine.
The wine critic Robert Parker made his bones (as we used to say back in Brooklyn) by correctly calling the quality of the 1982 Bordeaux vintage. It was the single event that catapulted him from mere critic to guru.~I succumbed to curiosity and selected the Bordeaux to open. I checked the bottleneck and I eyed the fill level: no wine seemed to have leaked and little, if any, evaporation seemed to have taken place. I reached for the corkscrew.
The vintage that followed was no slouch either, and so, while I was excited to find the particular 1983 vintage in my brother-in-law’s rack, the storage conditions to which it had been subjected made me afraid to open it.
~Being relatively unconcerned with wine, my brother-in-law uses one of those winged corkscrews. I hate them. They are designed for ease but they are also badly designed for leverage, and if something goes wrong, they seem completely useless as an implement for innovative remedy.
~I inserted the corkscrew into the cork and turned the worm. It went into the cork without incident, and when I noticed that the instrument’s wings had not been opening as I turned the worm I knew that the time had passed for the cork to lift but it had not budged.
~I gently pulled on the corkscrew and it easily slid right out, leaving a hole in the center of the cork. Pieces of cork clung to every level of the worm screw—the cork had disintegrated during storage.
~The only way left for me to get at the wine was to widen the hole in the center of the cork to allow an escape hatch for the oxygen when I pushed the cork into the bottle, so that the bottle would not explode in my hands, which I have had happen twice over my years in the wine trade.
~Of course, with all the cork particles in it, I dumped the first glass of wine that I poured, but not until after I took a deep whiff and a small taste.
~In spite of it all, the wine was marvelous!
~The wine certainly showed its age, but in a good way. It had not browned—it was a beautiful brick color; its aroma was of slight oxidation, but also with an under aroma of earth and fruit; its palate was broad with a hint of bacon fat that lingered in a long finish.
Myth Exposed?: Bad storage and a disintegrated cork is a perfect prescription for ruining a wine.
Neither deplorable storage conditions nor a disintegrated cork seemed to have had much effect on a quality 1983 Bordeaux red. The wine had been transported to New Jersey from London (where my brother-in-law had gotten the wine) and then it rested in that rack in the kitchen for about a dozen years.
I was humbled.
~Later in the day one of my niece-in-law’s husbands asked for me to help in opening a white wine. It seemed he had met with a recalcitrant cork, one that refused to budge.
~This cork was not disintegrated. In fact, it was a young white wine from Italy—a Pint Grigio produced for quick consumption.
~The winged corkscrew seemed powerless to lift the cork out of the bottle. This time, I rummaged through a kitchen drawer and there I found a cheap version of a waiter’s corkscrew, the kind of screw that comes with a knife to cut the foil that covers the cork and a leverage device that one rests on the lip of the bottleneck after the worm has been fully inserted.
~I inserted this version of a corkscrew into the cork slightly to the right of the hole that the winged version had made. I slowly turned the worm to keep control over it from slipping to the center, and when the time came, I placed the leverage device over the lip of the bottle and pulled.
~The cork came out but with great difficulty.
~The wine, however, was oxidized.
Myth Exposed?: Storing wine on its side keeps the cork moist.~I really don’t know the moral of these stories, except to say that the older I get the more I become convinced in the fallacy of speaking or thinking in absolutes, which is one reason that listening to blowhards who try to prove that they know what they are talking about gets harder and harder with each passing year, no, minute. And I am trying harder and harder not to sound like a blowhard...
The cork from this bottle was completely dry and just about fused to the bottleneck. My brother-in-law did not remember how long the wine had been in the rack in the kitchen, but he said it had been there at minimum two months.
Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
August 2007. All Rights Reserved.