By Paul Kalemkiarian June 1983
There are some finer points about uncorking a bottle of wine. The inspection of the bottle before opening, and the actual uncorking procedure deserve some review. Some people have referred to the latter exercise as “dressing the bottle”, which I think carries it a bit far! But no matter, a few of the procedures are important, so lets look at them.
- Before uncorking, wipe a dusty bottle with a damp napkin to remove any loose shelf dust or loose cellar dust from the bottle. (There is nothing less appetizing than dust dropping from the bottle onto a tablecloth or into a wine glass! Encrusted cellar dust can remain! As long as it is not loose. It adds atmosphere!
- Look through the bottle to see if it has any sediment. Young wines should not have any. If they do, they might be defective. Aged wines,(mostly red) do develop a sediment and should be decanted. Do not open a bottle of wine which has a sediment and the bottle has been jostled. The sediment will not settle fast enough for you to use that bottle. It will need to be kept upright for at least 24 hours to allow the sediment to settle before decanting. (If you know a bottle has a sediment, and it has been kept in a horizontal position on a shelf, then it can be gingerly removed, without tilting, and then carefully placed in a wine basket, opened and decanted). I will cover the technique of decanting at another time. If you see clear crystals as a sediment in the bottle (maybe they look like coarse granules of sugar), they are usually tartrate crystals, and a natural byproduct of wine. They crystallize out due to temperature changes. Do not be concerned. Just pour over them. They will usually settle to the bottom of the bottle fast enough to pour over.
Notice the level of the wine in the neck. If it is more than an inch below the bottom of the cork, the bottle has suffered ullage. If it is an aged wine, you can suspect that it might be off. In a young wine, it might be a mechanical short fill, or a leaky cork, which will show other evidence in the capsule.( moisture, leak marks, and in some cases a corroded hole or edge to the capsule). If no ullage is evident, but some moistness, mold, or corrosion shoes on or under the capsule, you should not be concerned.(In shipping of wine, temperature changes cause miniscule amounts of wine to escape from around the cork, and cause this).