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Article – The corked bottle of wine and the IMF

October 15th, 2010

The Revolution is coming

The wind is howling and the fires are being lit all over the country. I suppose I could wax lyrical about the leaves as they succumb to the call of nature and make their final journey, before the inevitability of decay. Am I talking about the weather or about the country itself? Will there be a general election or does it really matter? Will the guilty face justice or is revolution and anarchy a foregone conclusion in these crazy times?

Matt Cooper & the IMF

That first paragraph started off with such hope, and was really supposed to be a fancy way of telling you all that staying in with red wine by the fire is the new going out. Somewhere along the way, I got distracted and sucked into Matt Cooper style Last Word political comment. I am waiting for the call from Matt for an entrenched small businessman’s take on the economy. I have an MBA so if he needs it, I can get into all of the numbers and the IMF question. During the MBA, our economics lecturer brought over an economist from the IMF and he told us about what happens when they move in. It not a discussion to have during daylight hours or without some liquid courage, so we might need to combine it as part of an on air wine tasting. We’ve tweeted on Twitter, so Matt, you know how to contact me.

The last two articles have seen me squeeze many words from my trip to the Veneto area of Italy. The Pinot Grigio I spoke so highly of last week went down a storm for tasting this week. Rather than introduce another winemaker to you so soon, I will wait a little bit and talk generally and tell you a story from the trip that caused me great anxiety and to question my wine tasting abilities. But first, some background is necessary to suitably build tension and pathos towards the central character.

Masters of Wine

Jane Boyce MW with the Liberty gang on recent trip to Veneto

Jane Boyce MW with the Liberty gang on recent trip to Veneto

I have referred to people with the title Master of Wine a number of times in the past, and suffice to say it is a very difficult title to achieve. Many aspire to it, but most fail. There are only four of them in Ireland, and Jane Boyce MW is one of them. She was invited on the recent trip to Italy, as she writes freelance for a number of publications (including Food & Wine magazine and The Irish Times) about wine.

On the 2nd night of the trip we were taken to this very famous restaurant in the centre of Verona. An elderly man prepared cold cuts of meat in open view, as he has done for decades, and everyone squashed into the corners of the small dining room. Space was at a premium and we had a big table in the middle of the room. I was sitting at the corner, closest to the kitchen. Jane was on one side of me and a lady called Lizzie, who worked with the importer, was on the other side.

Plate of Cold Cut meats in Verona

Plate of Cold Cut meats in Verona

Tasting Corked Wines

The wines were ordered for the table and the sommelier came out with the reds to taste. This being Italy, the man was given the wine to taste. There is a Master of Wine on side of me and one of the people paying for the trip on the other, so I played the coward card. There was no way I was testing my nose and palate against these people. So, Lizzie tasted the wine, and low and behold it was rejected. A corked bottle is not as uncommon as you would imagine and the reason why so many people are pushing for screw caps on all wines. A replacement bottle was produced and once again, inexplicably, it was put in front of me to taste.

A Table full of empty glasses and full bellies

A Table full of empty glasses and full bellies

Once again, my cowardice showed its yellow face and I passed the honour to Jane. If you have a Master of Wine at the table, it makes sense to use them. As fate would have it, the second bottle was also corked, so I was delighted I had passed the glass. A third bottle was brought by a very contrary sommelier and his chauvinism knew no bounds, for he once again thrust it in front of yours truly. There was no way that the two ladies were gong to let me away this time, and I had no choice but to taste. I said to myself that it is not possible that three bottles could be corked, so I grabbed the glass and gave it a swirl with the confidence of a man who had statistics on his side.

Nowhere to Hide

I smelt the wine and I broke out in a cold sweat almost immediately. The wine wasn’t corked but it was not right in my very humble opinion. I was expecting lots of fresh fruit on the nose, but it was dead. I started to panic and doubt myself. Maybe this is what it is supposed to smell like. I tasted some and there was still nothing there that I would have expected to find. Mr. Red Nose was turning into Mr. Red Face. I remembered what I was always told when learning how to taste wine in France all those years ago. Trust your first instinct.

Delighted to say this was NOT corked and was fantastic - Txs DG

Delighted to say this was NOT corked and was fantastic - Txs DG

I took a deep breath and sucked in my belly and stuck out my chest and declared this wine to be “not quite right”. The sommelier wilted before our eyes and the rest of the table looked at me with a sense of impending doom. I quickly passed the offending glass to the Master of Wine and within a few seconds she confirmed my judgment. I could hear the fanfares blowing and the slow planning of a ticker tape parade in Clonmel to greet the returning hero. However, within a few minutes the conversation moved on and I was mortal once more. In saying that, it is very rare to find three corked wines in a row.

Food & Wine Extravaganza

If you would like to check the validity of this story, I am delighted to announce that Jane will be part of the Tipperary Food Producers Food Extravaganza in the Clonmel Park on November 10th. Held in conjunction with Bord Bia, this promises to be a great evening. I have already had a number of requests and enquiries for tickets and they are now available in the shop. Jane will work alongside the chefs on the night and do a food and wine pairing talk. This is not to be missed.

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Oct 13 2010

Ian Dornan ( writes:

Screwcaps rule Gary, but unfortunately there’ll always be cork and there’ll always be friends and collegues looking to you for your expert opinion.

Gary Gubbins ( writes:

Cheers Ian
I have to admit I still like corks in certain wines. Screwcap has a big part to play but if they had taken out that 20yr old Barolo and unscrewed it, I would not have been happy…

The corked bottles in the article were new Valpolicella wines ( vineyard name not being revealed as they are usaully spot on and it was obvious a bad batch )

thnaks for comment

Paul ( writes:

What horror! Fair play to both of you for sending them back, I’d be tempted to just mumble “si, it is good”.

But even that is a risk as you just look like an idiot then if someone at the table subsequently proclaims it faulty.

I know the feeling when you get a wine and, while it’s not awful enough for you to be definite, doesn’t seem “quite right”. It’s a tricky place to be!

I’m sure I’ve happily drank many, many corked bottles in my time.

Red Nose Wine ( writes:

this was a table full of wine importers, journalists, sommiliers and the like so we must assume that they all know their stuff.
that’s where the pressure came in…
Hard to bluff them. 3rd bottle was the hardest to tell as well… no damp cardboard but fruit had died away…

Paul ( writes:

Thing is, there are “traditional” wines that aren’t fruity. I guess Valpolicella should be though.

I always try to pawn off the testing in restaurants on someone else, even if nobody there has a clue about wine!

Give other people a chance (ahem) …

Fabio ( writes:

3 corked bottles in a row is not so strange really, as they obviously all came from the same lot of wine. The 4th and 5th would have been corked too, up to the 300th if the whole cask was off!!!
Great post – you built up the tension really well! I often find myself in the same spot, ie being forced to taste the wine (just because I make the stuff) even though there are people who can taste much better than me!!!

Red Nose Wine ( writes:

Cheers Fabio
That’s a valid point about the cask
The poor waiter would have collapsed if we went much further.

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