During the recent holidays a guest expressed surprise when I shoved a crumbling cork into the bottle instead of trying to extract it. He was sure I had ruined a fine bottle of red wine. Cork is, of course, a friend of wine unless it has become tainted, something happening with all too much frequency these days.
Anyway, the cork won’t spoil the wine if it isn’t spoiled itself, and there is just no reason to risk dripping more and more cork crumbs into the wine, as you’re likely to do if you continue trying to manipulate a tired or very dry cork out of the bottle. Keep a small sieve — or a piece of cheese cloth handy to use as a filter as you pour the wine into a decanter. No need to spoil the appearance of the wine or risk a mouthful of cork shavings.
That same guest was dumbfounded when I decanted a fresh young Chardonnay, saying he thought you only decant red wines. To be honest, I don’t decant many wines anymore — it’s too much bother for every day consumption — but almost any wine will profit from a bit of aeration.
I was dumbfounded some thirty years ago when the late Marcel Kreutsch decanted a Champagne at lunch. His Villa Lorraine had just become the first restaurant outside France to win a third Michelin star, and like many other gourmet snobs of the day, I had gone to Brussels just to verify the worthiness of his place. He was delighted to have a serious interview and asked a server to bring us some Champagne. To my surprise, the server brought a decanter and let Marcel decant it himself. “I decant almost every wine,” he said, “because I believe it does help the wine but it also enables me to show off my crystal collections.”
Another guest was shocked to see me pull a Cabernet from a little wine fridge I keep in our dining room. “Red wine should be at room temperature,” he explained. “True enough,” I agreed; “but which room?” I then went on to say that the best room temperature is the traditional cellar in which the Old World consumers kept their bottles. Midwestern summer heat waves and modern central heating systems tend to raise wine temperatures way above the 60 to 65-degree levels at which Cabernets and Syrahs are most comfortable. And a Pinot Noir or Gamay prefers temperatures closer to 55 degrees.
Old and secure in my opinions these days, I tend to serve our white and red daily- use wines at just about the same temperatures. Too cold, and they lose freshness; too warm and they may turn bad. No, it isn’t just laziness. When I prowl through the cellars in Burgundy, the chais in Bordeaux, and the cantinas in the Piedmont, the hosts open their bottles in the cellar, after wiping off the cobwebs in some cases. The wines always seem at their best under those circumstances. But don’t forget the sieve or cheesecloth.