Two days ago I uncorked a 2005 Robert Foley Merlot. To mine shock and horror, the wine was not the smooth, silky, chocolaty nectar that I was anticipating – and I have come to revere this wine as a wine among wines, i.e. high on the mountaintop! Instead, in it’s place, swirling around my glass was a cantankerous, nefarious liquid, dusty and insipid with moldy carpet-like aromatics and an astringency that might have disinfected Spanish Harlem. I thought, perhaps, it is my glass! Perhaps there was some residue in the glass that is ruining my beautiful wine. Another clean and residue-free glass yielded the same life-flailing results. Perhaps by decanting the wine, I thought, this spell would pass, and still, an hour later, like a constant spitting of rain in the Scottish stratosphere, this wine spit snake venom at the receptors in my nose. Now let’s backtrack a moment…
I had purchased six bottles from Cabrini Liquors, online. Their store is located on 181st street and Cabrini Boulevard in Manhattan. The wines were shipped to me in February. The first two bottles I drank were as vibrant as a restless four-year, but a four-year-old in a double-breasted vest and wingtips.
What had happened? What scuffed the wing-tips and knarled the penache? The wines lay on their side in the coolest part of my apartment – due to the lack of “wine cellar” or “wine fridge” (and I’m working on changing that). The apartment is carpeted and when I first smelled the acrid Merlot I assumed it was somehow the carpet’s fault, and if it weren’t for my fiancée who is rational when I hath no rational, I would have torn the carpet to shreds and cursed out my landlord below for not installing a temperature-controlled room in our three-room apartment. Alas. After returning the wine to bottle from decanter, I stopped the bottles with rubber stoppers and sucked out any remaining air. I called Cabrini and arranged to bring the wine back on Monday evening, two days out.
The treck to Cabrini was a good hour-long subway ride, and in New York City the subway presents a good opportunity to catch up on reading. I brought along the last five New Yorkers. I read about the Madoff Ponzi scheme. I got angry for all the people that were swindled. I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to accuse someone… of something. I was prepared to accuse the good people at Cabrini of trying to put one over on me… I mean, they’re in the Bronx!
To my surprise, the store was an unexpected playground of rare and fine wines all priced well-below market-value, or at least, New York City Market Value. I was greeted by Damian, Cabrini’s wine-director. He led me to the “office” where dozens and dozens of bottles lay recently opened for tasting (they were planning a big event and had to “familiarize” themselves with the wines – tough job). After a brief introduction I retrieved my four bottles of remaining Foley Merlot, two unopened, two vacuum packed. We poured them into four glasses and I, Keith the photographer, Rami the blogger, and Damian the Director tasted:
“These wines are not corked,” said Rami, through perfectly aligned purple-stained teeth. “Very, very tight for a California Merlot,” said Damian. And by Jove, the bastards were right. What had happened in the course of the wine’s two day sleep-over in my refrigerator? I say “them” because I had opened a second bottle immediately following the first and experienced the same gag-reflex. Two wines in a row! How? Why? What had I done to the good Sheppard Bacchus? Damian explained that the wine is complex, alive, and as a small production can vary greatly in terms of bottling from barrel to barrel and bottle to bottle. The wine needed to decant. Well, I had decanted it, I reminded the three incredulous winos! Strange… strange. We’ll never know. But the fact remained that one bottle was slightly corked, while the other was tight, but that probably had something to do with the fact that it had been opened, decanted, re-bottled, refrigerated, transported, and then re-opened in 48 hours and still tasted pretty damn good.
“Where do you store you glasses?” Asked Damian.
Christ. That was it. Never occurred to me: my glasses hung, upside down in my kitchen, not far from my stove. All the days and weeks of cooking – and I cook a lot – all the aromas, wedging themselves in the microscopic pours of my glassware – and hence, affecting the wine. It made sense. The Merlot was great in the glasses from Cabrini – and again, a true testament to Foley, because of the trauma I put the wine through over the last 48 hours. And, come to think of it, recently, every wine I had been drinking tasted the same and seemed a tad on the volatile side. Well…
Wine is a living, breathing creature and reacts to its environment. So good people, sterilize those glasses and for heaven’s sake, even if they look nice, don’t hang them upside down on a rack in your kitchen. Same goes for ordering wine at a bar – if you see them storing their glasses as such – stick to beer.