Monday, August 11, 2008

Corked Wine Update: I Can Do It!

Finally, I did it! We were drinking a wine that I thought might be corked, I happened to have another bottle, we opened it to compare, and yes - it was corked. Please feel free to send congratulatory notes and medals/trophies.

Why would I celebrate such a thing, you ask? Very recently I told you that I'm not so good at picking out corked wine. I've probably drunk many of them in the past few years without realizing that they were corked, thinking instead that I just didn't like the wine. People wrote interesting and encouraging comments, and I decided that the next time I am uncertain, I would be bold and simply open another bottle for comparison. Such a shame that this occurred with what should have been a spectacular wine, and not cheap either at $42 when I bought it in March of 2007.

This weekend the fish people at our farmer's market had bonito for the first time this summer. Bonito is wonderful in sushi where is is usually lightly cured in vinegar, as is other mackerel sushi. Like other mackerel, it is also wonderful when broiled, maybe with a simple soy/mirin/sesame glaze. The cooked flesh tastes and feels something like a cross between tuna and Spanish mackerel.

We broiled our lovely bonito, plunged a few ear of corn into boiling water, and lightly dressed our heirloom tomatoes and salad greens. BrooklynLady requested a Sancerre with this dinner and it happens that we had only one in the cellar, the 2005 Domaine Pascal Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés, $42, imported by Michael Skurnik Wines. Widely thought of as one of the top producers in Sancerre, Pascal Cotat (his cousin François is also a top producer) harvests later than most growers and he makes rich and concentrated wines that can age for the long term. And that was my plan - drink one of these young, enjoy the wonderfully ripe 2005 fruit, and hold one for about 10 years. Alas, it was not to be.

We opened the bottle while the fish broiled and even after about 10 minutes, the wine had no fruit on the nose whatsoever. Smelling blind there would have been no way to tell that this was Sauvignon Blanc. By the time our food was on plates and ready to go, my glass smelled like something heavy, but not fruit. Something musty. "Could this be corked," I asked the wife. She wasn't sure, and was more interested in her fish anyway. I swirled vigorously and kept sniffing. Still something unpleasant, no fruit.

I opened the second bottle figuring that if I was right, I would return the corked bottle to the merchant. Sure, no more 2005 is available, but the 2006 is on the shelves. And if I was wrong and it wasn't corked, well so be it. A $42 lesson in smelling wine. And it would save me from cellaring a bottle of wine that I didn't like.

It was absolutely clear as soon as I opened the second bottle that the first was terribly corked. The second bottle immediately showed classic Sauvignon Blanc grassy notes, and with an hour open it developed into something really beautiful and complex. An elegant and light but also intense nose of citrus and spices, very pure and clean, very mineral. Rich and broad in the mouth, this wine really spread out and stained the palate. It was so well balanced, it didn't have any of the heaviness that you might expect from such a rich wine. It perfectly cut through the oily bonito and was absolutely delicious, a joy to drink. By the last glass the nose was just shimmering and the wine reminded me, oddly, of a Riesling.

I wish I still had another bottle. But it was an important lesson for my nose and palate, and it was equally important that I had the cohones to crack open the second bottle. I feel so much more confident about picking out TCA now.


Michael D. said...

Congrats!!!! Great post. To bad it had to be a bottle of the stunning Les Monts, but sadly TCA doesn't judge. Cheers!

Jack Everitt said...

Now I hope you corked it and returned to the place of purchase for exchange. Most wine retailers will replace a TCA bottle. (But yes, a tedious task.)

Anonymous said...

That is a great post, Brooklyn guy! Congrats on the corked wine revellation:)

I happen to love the wines from both Cotat families. What you said about it reminding you of Riesling is very true. I like to call it 'positive chlorophyll' that the best Sauvignons have-especially in the Loire Valley.

I have not tasted the 2005 in some time, but I remember it having so much energy- and sort of a red wine structure from the mineral terroir which is why I can immagine it standing up to your tuna (although I personally prefer red with oily fishes becayse of the bitterness factor :)).

Brooklynguy said...

thanks mike, and it's true. TCA is color blind.

i re-corked the bottle and put it in the fridge, returned it to the vendor today. one of the salespeople confirmed that it was corked, and they gave me a credit for the bottle. which i promptly used to buy a bottle of the same wine, 2006 vintage.

it was a very energetic wine, yes saltpeps.

Joe said...

Never fails - the corkers are always the most highly anticipated wines in your cellar...

David McDuff said...

Good work, Neil. Now it's only a matter of time and practice with identifying TCA at varying levels before you won't need to open a comparison bottle to be sure.

Anonymous said...


peter said...

Mazel tov. With any luck you won't have the chance to get any better.

Anonymous said...

So I sat down to read some posts and at about the same time that I saw yours I took my first sip of...a terribly corked Olivier Cousin Cabernet Franc. Bleah! Now I can't get the taste out of my mouth. (If it weren't so strong perhaps I'd suspect the power of suggestion.)

Brooklynguy said...

makes me wonder what else in my cellar is corked. what if that one and only chambolle amoureuses is corked? that would SUCK.

hey peter - welcome back. i'm sure that kind of luck is impossible if you drink wine almost every night. but my fingers are crossed.

steve-too bad, i love that wine. it's so foul-smelling when you first open it even when it's not corked. really a funk bomb.