Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to Store Wines, Pt 2: A Tale of Woe and Love

It's not exactly the 1994 Conn Creek Cab Sauv Select Reserve, but close enough. Photo courtesy of Media Uvinim.

NEVER underestimate the role of chance and luck in storing wine. Even those “in the know” sometimes get shocked or pleasantly surprised.

The Bottle
In 1997, my husband’s boss gave him a bottle of a 1994 Conn Creek Select Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet. Not being much of a wine geek, he stored the wine on its side in a heavy velvet gift bag under his bed in various apartments – for the next 13 years!!! When I found out I groaned. In addition to lying around for more than a decade, the wine has lately been lazing about in an apartment that tends to the bone-dry and very hot. So much for three of the six wine storage tips in “How to Store Wines Pt. 1 (

I just knew this beautiful wine would be skunked. All my wine-geek friends and professionals were ready to pronounce a requiem for such an unnoteworthy demise. Funny, because everyone knew it was “already long gone” there was no real incentive to uncork it and prove the obvious. So, believe-it-not, the wine stayed dormant for yet another year .

The Woe
Last night, with a back-up bottle in the wings just in case, my other half and I uncorked the Napa Valley Cabernet. The minute the foil wrap came off, an ever-so-slight vinegary waft arose from the cork. Not a good omen. Oh well. Out comes the trusty bartender’s corkscrew. Then, as if the threads have been stripped, the corkscrew pulls up crumbs. The cork is disintegrating right before my very eyes! Merde. I put the corkscrew in reverse, unwind it fully, cup the top of the bottle, close my eyes, and blow gently. Cork fragments breeze everywhere. Look again. Where to aim the next surgical strike? Uggggh, along the wall of the bottle. Not the best place, but not too many choices left.

Wait a minute: “Hey Hon,” I asked my husband, “did we ever get the two-pronged corkscrew, the one I said I always hated?”

“You mean the one you threatened to throw out if I did?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“Of course not!”


He looks perplexed. I don’t understand. Must be a guy-thang. Back to the drawing board.

Attempt #2: No luck. Pulling up cork fragments again, but at least they’re damp. The cork hasn’t dried out entirely. A marginally good sign. Cork fragments do not smell moldy. Slightly vinegary, but not moldy. Another marginally good sign.
Attempt #3: Same as before.
Attempt #4: Just as with football, sometimes ya just have to go right down the center. OK. Making a bit of progress, the remaining cork starts to edge up the bottle, and then begins to crumble.

The two-pronged corkscrew can come in handy with a broken cork. Photo courtesy of Corkscrew.

Oh to hell with it! I push the remaining ¼ cork into the bottle. Initial pour (with strainer): very dark, but a slightly brownish tinge. Looks a little rusty. Oxidation? Perhaps, and oxidation means vinegar. This bottle is going to be shot. Not even going to bother sniffing it.

First taste: What?!?! Can this be real? This is un-effing-believably good! The Napa Valley Cabernet is a little past prime, but not by much. An oaky smoky bone-dry whisper on the tongue, and then a small rush of fruit flavors and spices roll in, followed by a long, rich, neverending finish. And my husband, who knows not of wine, says, “Oh, so this is what a wine can be!” Yes, indeed, dear. It can. What a revelation.

Long story short: Red wines are like cats – relatively unpredictable beasties. Another bottle from the same lot could have behaved more “typically” and turned to vinegar.

The moral of his story: drink. Wine is meant to be drunk, not buried away, or at least, not buried away until forever. Grab a few friends and family, enjoy the holiday season, but do drink responsibly.

Next Up: David Bouley and the Beaujolais

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