and we’re supposed to feel good about fewer corked wines?

Once each year, I join a group of friends for a tasting called Best of Cellar: sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. This year, it had all the hallmarks. Let me start by noting that one of the nine bottles that I brought was 1982 Chateau Margaux. Yeah, it’s called Best of Cellar, right?

Except that we had a few corked wines. How many? Uhm, maybe more than a few. We opened about thirty-six wines (the numbers always get fuzzy at some point) and six of them were corked. And it wasn’t just any six bottles. They were:

1994 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon – corked!
1988 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle – corked!
1988 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Gold Kapsule Auslese – corked!
1990 Karthausershofberg Eitelsbacher Auslese – corked!
1993 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese – corked!

and most ignominiously…

1985 double magnum Chateau Lynch Bages – corked!

Six out of thirty-six is something like seventeen percent. Bear in mind that the cork industry is boasting that the incidence of corked wines is down to one or two percent. Lately, I have seen that number, though that may be due to the higher incidence of synthetic corks and screwcaps.

My recent experience not withstanding, the frequency of corked wines is down, I’ll allow that. At my recent United Airlines tastings, I saw only a handful of corked bottles, out of about one thousand bottles that were tasted over the eight days of the taste-off. Indeed, I was more frequently aroused to ire by the glue-like smells of some of the wines that were closed with so-called twintop closures. It turned into a game after a while: I would taste through thirty or forty wines and then call out the bottles that smelled like a twintop closure, without of course looking at the cork. The telltale smell of glue is annoying; I have no idea why vintners still use those corks.

With standard corks, things are better; I believe that. But that’s of little solace to my friends and I who endured hundreds of dollars of spoilage and wasted time and cellar space. Trust me, we ain’t rich, we just drink like we are. The ugly truth is that fifteen and twenty years ago, things were very, very bad. And we are unlucky to have been collecting wine at that time, when cork taint was seemingly everywhere.

I’m not saying you should go out and trash all your 1980’s and early 1990’s wines. There’s a far better than even chance the wines are perfectly sound. But I’m not going to forgive the cork industry anytime soon (sorry, Prince Charles). And every time I have this many corked wines, my anger burns anew.

can a cocktail get some respect?

My daughters have the Food Network on as TV wallpaper. In candor, it pains me to admit this. I’ve got a really bad attitude about the Food Network; I mean, what do these people have against alcohol beverage??? Sure they mention wine and cocktails, but the info about alcohol is misguided or plain wrong. Case in point: one not-to-be-named TV host is making “cocktails” on her show. The quotations are no accident, cause those aren’t cocktails she’s making. Oh, goody, cocktails! But it’s the Food Network. It giveth and it taketh away. They get your hopes up and then crush them like the insignificant little bug that you represent. She makes a “martini”; again, the quotations are purposeful. This one is half gin and half vermouth. Hmm. Okay, I know some people like that but not very many. And she doesn’t measure; she just pours it into a pitcher. Why? Because she’s a mad skilled bartender who never needs to measure! Only thing is: the world’s greatest bartenders (Dale DeGroff, anyone?) measure, but I guess she’s a lot better than they are.

Then she pours in juice out of a Kalamata olive jar. Oils and all. Cloudy drink and all. She stirs (not showing any of the stirring skills of a real bartender, but I niggle on this) for maybe two seconds and dumps it in a cocktail glass with three warm olives. Bad bartending. The other complaint I have? She isn’t forced to drink this lukewarm, bitter concoction on air, live and trying not to gag.

Then here’s what made me start clicking the keyboard on my computer. She makes another cocktail, same setup, quick stir, no skills and then pours it into a cocktail glass, STRAINING WITH HER FINGERS!! That’s disgusting. Somebody get this woman a bartending consultant.

A few minutes later another host makes a big show of washing her hands after kneading raw lamb, but not until after she’s touched the serving dish she’s going to use for the finished dish and a few spare utensils. Aargh.