The Penniless Epicure: Pass the Smell Test

Written by Josh Perilo on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


I leaned over the gaudily dressed couple sitting at one of my restaurant’s most coveted tables. I presented the bottle of Pinot Noir to the gentleman.

“Hmm,” he whined, furrowing his brow, “I wish you had an older vintage, but I suppose this will do.” Keeping my judgment of the clod internal, I deftly removed the cork with my wine key and placed it on the table. The man grabbed the cork, placed it under his nose and breathed in deeply.

“Ah, yes,” he sighed, “Now that’s a Pinot Noir.” Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you: Don’t be this guy. Not because he waltzed in at 8 o’clock without a reservation on a Friday night and announced to the host that we must have a table for him because he knows the owner (although that is reason enough, in my book), but because he committed the most egregious folly that any faux-wine expert possibly could.

He smelled the cork. Nothing makes me laugh harder than to watch a “wine snob” pore over a wine list like a law student studying for the LSATs, rattle off “facts” about the vineyard and vintage, then, once the wine is open, pick up the cork and smell it. This is the acid test, as far as I’m concerned, which determines whether or not someone knows about wine. There is absolutely nothing that any person can discern from the smell of a wine cork. Nothing.

What a cork can tell you, however, is how well the wine has been stored. This can be judged by simply looking at it. If the cork is wet or stained all the way to its middle that means the wine has been stored well. If the cork isn’t stained or wet, is dry or, even worse, crumbly, the wine has been stored poorly.

Like the title of the movie suggests, wine should always, always, always be stored sideways.The purpose for this is, for lack of a better term, “cork health.” Cork is an organic material that is used to seal up a bottle full of more organic material.

The thing about organic material is that it is susceptible to the elements. “Thank you, Penniless Epicure,” you are saying to me out loud, “but I won’t be kayaking with my 1994 Barolo anytime soon.” First of all, stop talking out loud, because the man sitting next to you is staring. Secondly, your house/apartment/flat has just as many damaging “elements” in it as a white water rafting trip on the Colorado River.

How many times have you called your super about the heat in the winter? It’s either freezing cold, or boiling hot, right? In the summer, that window unit only stays on when you’re home, most likely. And in the winter, the heat dries up that kitchen of yours, doesn’t it? Not to mention the unbearable humidity in the summer.

Cork was originally used to seal bottles because of its ability to expand and contract. The problem is, it does that a little too well. Because oxygen, when not under your control, is the enemy of wine, this expanding and contracting can begin to compromise the air-tight seal of the cork, if the bottle is standing upright.

This, of course, explains why, when looking at a cork, you can tell how well a wine has been stored. If the wine has been on its side at all times, the wine will have made the cork constantly moist and perhaps even stained the cork (if it’s red wine) up to its middle.

Once the clod at table seven finished sniffing his cork to determine God knows what, he grabbed the bottle from my hands. He then poured himself a glass of wine all the way up to the rim, nearly spilling out onto the table.

“These big glasses sure do make it seem like there isn’t much wine in there, huh?” He sneered. This was going to be a long night.

josh@pennilessepicure.com

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