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Posted by Robert Whitley on September 3, 2014 at 12:16 PM

Solving a Cork Crisis

It’s no wonder many wine enthusiasts approach the task of opening an older bottle with trepidation. The fear and loathing is understandable for anyone who’s had a faulty cork shred in an attempt to extract it from an expensive or rare vintage.

More often than not, if the wine has been stored properly – on its side in a cool, dark space – the cork will come out easily and in one piece. But there are times, and it's simply the luck of the draw, when removing an old cork can result in unmitigated disaster, crumbling before your eyes and literally impossible to extract with an ordinary corkscrew.

And so it was on a recent evening when I foraged through the cellar for a well-aged Cabernet to serve with a beautiful prime ribeye steak. After considering a number of possibilities, my hand settled upon a bottle of 1994 Guenoc Bella Vista Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley.

The wine had been resting on its side in my cellar for at least 17 of its 20 years. The ullage (the space between the bottom of the cork and the liquid in the bottle) was exceptional for a 20-year-old wine. And there was no evidence of seepage around the capsule.

From all appearances the wine was in superb condition. But when the dramatic moment arrived to open the bottle, the cork disintegrated, leaving the neck of the bottle and the liquid at the very top covered with what looked like sawdust.

The cork had completely dried out over time despite lying on its side with the bottom of the cork wet for those many years. The problem was nothing more than a bad or faulty cork, and I can say from years of experience that it happens.

Not to worry, however, if you have the proper tools. To recover from a crumbled cork you will need a decanter and a funnel equipped with a wire mesh trap to catch the cork particles as you decant.

But first I used the knife on the corkscrew to push the cork completely into the bottle to create space for the wine to escape. The wire mesh captured all of the broken cork and left the decanted wine in pristine condition.

To my utter delight, the faulty cork had not spoiled the wine. It was loaded with primary fruit, with great color and remarkable freshness for a 20-year-old California Cab.

Dutton Goldfield, Marin County (California) Pinot Noir Azaya Ranch Vineyard 2012 ($58)
Dutton Goldfield's Azaya Ranch Pinot is another excellent example of California Pinot that offers power and depth without losing the essence of delicacy that is so critical to Pinot Noir. This vintage shows a deep note of raspberry and bright red fruits, a touch of earthiness, spice and a long, sensuous finish. 92 Robert Whitley

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Back to School
Michael Apstein

Along with the burgeoning interest in wine among American consumers has come an explosion of opportunities to learn about wine. It's a far different state of affairs now than in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I was learning about wine. Back then, there were few opportunities for novices to attend reasonably-priced tastings to develop their palates. Indeed, the sort of in-store tastings that have become commonplace were actually illegal in many states not long ago. Today, however, those who are just becoming interested in wine are fortunate to have a diverse set of opportunities by from which to learn about the wonders of the grape.
A Great, New Book on Barolo and Barbaresco
Ed McCarthy

My love for Barolo and Barbaresco is the reason that I welcomed the opportunity to review a new book by Kerin O'Keefe: Barolo and Barbaresco, The King and Queen of Italian Wine, which will be published by the University of California Press on October 17th, 2014. It is one of the very few books written solely about Barolo and Barbaresco by an American wine writer. I first met Kerin O'Keefe at a wine conference in Tuscany about eight years ago. At that time, I was totally impressed with her knowledge of and passion for Italian wines--and my first impression grew stronger as I got to know her better.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Crab and Corn Curried Chowder

Of course we love autumn--doesn't everyone? The cool nights, clear skies, hearty soups and stews, they're all easy to love. But much as we look forward to fall we also feel a tug of regret at the passing of summer. Bare feet in the sand, icy gazpacho, a comfy seat in the shade of a plant-filled patio--these are among the multitude of summer's small yet significant pleasures. To mark this seasonal transition we wanted to make a soup that might use some of summer's bounty to create the robust taste and texture of cool weather fare. Curried crab and corn chowder is the dish that satisfied our longing for an in-between seasons' supper.
On My Table
Refinement Rather than Power
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

There's something to be said for difficult vintages. The cool 2011 growing season in Napa Valley was challenging for winemakers and growers due to a rainy Spring, a cool summer and late ripening, but it has produced some lovely Cabernet Sauvignons -- provided that, like me, you enjoy Cabernet wines that skew toward elegance. The 2011 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a fine example of what this vintage produced in the hands of top winemakers. The wine is delicious, complete, and seamless, with all the fresh fruit character that you want, but just a tad less power than is typical.