September 13, 2007

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How not to get screwed
How to remove the cork without pulverizing it
By Tim Protzman†tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

Now that itís over I can tell the truth:. I donít really like summer.

Itís too hot. When Iím running for a plane I sweat. Going into the subway I drip. Hanging out I get moist. When I cook, I sweat into the food. People shy away from me. Because Iím the big, fat sweaty guy. Oh, people like big fat sweaty guys. W.C. Fields, Belushi, Farley, Dom Deluise. They just donít like sitting next to them.

And in the fall, fewer people are outdoors. I remember a snow storm where I walked for hours, seeing no one. Hearing only the sound of the snow. I guess I like the fall because of harvest. Because of vatting. And back to school. Because of the holidays. Halloween and that through-the-woods-to-Grandmaís-house one. And an anniversary. A sad one. Is there anyone in the Northeast who can ever forget that beautiful blue sky of Sept. 11?

Fall is the time of all wines. Whites donít go out after Labor Day. The days are hot enough to serve one thoroughly chilled. Then suddenly a gray front moves through and youíre sipping Zinfandel by the fire. All in the same day. (P.S.: The white, a Sancerre, was served with breakfast.) And when that huge orange moon rises, what could be better than toasting it with wine? The silvery winter moon begs for whiskey. And for that bloated bloody red eye moon of summer, that humid moon, that moon of illicit outdoor affairs, Jšgermeister. But on a cool autumn night a dessert wine, normally thick and sicky sweet, takes on a Kandie Korn flavour.

First I want to bury a pet peeve. Itís about how to open a wine bottle.

She plunged her corkscrew into the top of the bottle like she was auditioning for a Hitchcock movie. Slashing like an Inuit flensing blubber, she penetrated the foil and cork in a thrust worthy of a Spartan phalanx. Then she used way too much metaphor.

The proper way to open wine is to twist the screw-top clockwise until the little perforated metal tabs break and screw cork comes off.

Many fine wines come in screw tops nowadays. It prevents problems. Some wines have a plastic seal. Most also have a runner strip like a pack of cigarettes. Pull the runner strip in the opposite direction itís going. Like youíre taking off a belt in reverse. This exposes the cork.

If the wine bottle has a foil seal on the top, take a small paring knife or use the foil cutter thatís on a good corkscrew and cut the foil below the rim. Thereís usually a lip and then a ring thatís raised. Some cut the top of the ring. I cut it underneath. Hold the bottle upright and place the knife on the foil. Press the knife and turn the bottle at the same time, cutting through the foil. Turn the bottle, not the knife. It will separate and come free, leaving the rim of the bottle foil-free. The foil wonít kill you but it is a lead/tin combination.

Place the corkscrew into the cork, or plastic cork. Plastic-cork wine is usually not as good as real-cork wine, but it has nothing to do with the cork.

The tip of the screw should be in the center of the cork. Push it in just a little bit. Then turn the bottle, letting the screw burrow itself. One caution: old vintages have sediment and wanging the bottle around stirs it up. Also, the only truly legitimate reason to send wine back in a restaurant is because of TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole)*. This is a catch-all for wine thatís gone bad. Older wine corks are often in terrible condition and the oldest vintages are sometimes re-corked if theyíre valuable.

Once the screw is hilt-deep in the cork, pull slowly but firmly. You should feel it move. It should come out gently with a small pop. If it wonít move, turn the corkscrew deeper.

If you screw too far or the cork is wet and old it could crumble; then you might have to push it into the bottle to get the wine out. Then itís best to decant ó that means pour slowly into a clean pitcher. Glass is best but plastic will do and either should be clean and well rinsed. Pour the wine slowly. Never exceed a 90-degree angle. Big chunks and sediment will stay behind, but a few floaties will pour out. Use the net from the aquarium. It should be clean and well rinsed. In a pinch use a funnel and a coffee filter.

And with older bottles thereís this special pronged cork extractor that doesnít pierce the cork.

Iíve taken the foil off many an older vintage and found mold. For the most part the wineís been good, if not great. Some was a little past its prime but not corked. But if the cork falls apart and itís damp and mealy and the wine has a rotten egg smell or vinegar or sweetness itís probably bad.

I only tasted one wine this week. 2003 Spellbound Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.99) From Lodi, Calif., AVA. Nice, inexpensive, a bit fruity and some alcohol but not really earth-shattering. Made by one of the Mondavi family. Itís a touch more structured than the typical $15 Californian.

Three wines to look for:
Pepper Bridge. A high-end Walla Walla, Wash., winery. A bartender at a wedding told me be on the lookout for Pepper Bridge. He tried the Cabernet and loved it. I viewed their Web site and was intrigued by the Merlot.
Chaddsford Winery. If North Carolina is the new Long Island, then Pennsylvaniaís Brandywine Valley is the new North Carolina. It is an ancient and now rediscovered appellation. This could be Americaís Loire Valley and give Napa a run for its money.
2003 Stonestreet Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($44.99). This one was given as a fine parting gift to a woman who left her job as a secretary to a college basketball coach. Sheís saving it until New Yearís. This vineyard never quite hit its mark with me. Iíd like to give it another try.