By Jim Boyce
China has bundled up for its coldest five-week spell in more than thirty years, according to this AP story. Beijing has been no exception, with friends getting out the long johns, donning extra scarves or just staying home. Some call the cold unbearable. I prefer to describe it as bracing.
It all reminds me of an interview I did nearly four years ago — one as atypical as the weather, since the questions covered the effects of freezing wine and the hazards of eating corks — with Shinya Tasaki, winner of the world’s best sommelier title in 1995. We did it in Shanghai, with Nicolas Carre as translator, and I have pasted the eight answers and questions below. You can see the original post here.
Boyce: Say I have a bottle of very cold red wine that I want to drink right away. Can I warm it in a microwave?
Tasaki: It’s possible to use a microwave because it won’t change the wine structure, but be careful to not heat it to more than 18 degrees. Another way is to decant the wine three or four times. The movement will help warm it, although this will introduce far more oxygen than if you simply use a microwave.
What if I put the bottle in a pan of hot water?
If you use hot water, the maximum temperature should be 30 degrees. If you use very hot water, it causes too much agitation in the wine and this introduces too much oxygen. By using a microwave, you don’t have this problem.
I should add that when it comes to sake in Japan, we traditionally warm it, and many people now use microwaves to do this.
Say I put a bottle of wine in the freezer and forget about it. The wine freezes solid and pushes the cork halfway out. Is it still OK to drink?
Because the wine is frozen, you end up with two results. First, it causes the tartric acid in the wine to take crystal form and this makes the wine less acidic. Second, when wine freezes, it expands and absorbs oxygen, which will make the wine taste flatter.
Say it is a hot day and I want to keep my glass of wine cool. Can I make wine ice cubes and then add them to my glass?
Just as with the frozen bottle of wine, the problem is that freezing wine introduces more oxygen into it. So, you can do it, but the wine will taste flatter.
Say I have a bottle of wine but no corkscrew. How can I open it?
Simply use something strong and thin such as a pen to push in the cork. Once the cork is in, use the pen to push it away from the bottle neck and start to pour the wine. The cork will then float into the empty space in the bottle and you are fine.
You can also use this method if you break the cork. If you use the corkscrew to pull out the broken piece, it might crumble the cork and you might get small pieces of it in the wine. Since the broken cork section is a solid piece, it is better to push it into the bottle and then pour.
When experts decant wine, they place a candle or light near the bottle neck when they pour so they can see when the sediment is about to come out. Could I use a pair of new nylons as a filter instead?
Nylons won’t work, but there are filters that can be used instead of a candle or light. For example, with vintage port the bottle is so dark you can’t see through it, so filters can be used.
Sometimes I have realized a wine is “corked” from tasting and smelling the wine rather than from smelling the cork. Why is this?
A cork won’t tell you everything, that’s why a sommelier usually tastes the wine. For example, there might have been a problem due to moisture in the cellar or to mold that somehow entered the wine during vinification or aging, and this might not be apparent from the cork. Even with screw caps, you can find wine that is “corked”.
What happens if I eat a cork? Will it poison me? Is it good roughage? Will I get splinters in my esophagus?
Nothing will happen. Cork is a natural product. But don’t swallow an entire cork – it might get caught in your throat. And avoid the plastic ones.