Mastering My Mistakes in Wine
Over the last year, I’ve been working on a book called Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen, in which I confess that while I know a lot about food and can throw a terrific party, I’m not a great cook. For the book, published by Ecco Press next month, I tapped 65 star chefs to teach me—and the results were extremely gratifying. My new quest is to master my mistakes in wine, a mission that inspired much of this wine issue. Turn to page 74 for an all-purpose, blowout guide to wine essentials, with advice on how to clean glasses without breaking them and how to chill wine quickly; we include a list of 50 fabulous bottles for $15 or less to help you conquer the planning for your next party.
I also reached out to Aldo Sohm, the phenomenal sommelier at New York City’s Le Bernardin and the upcoming Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, to supplement that piece with some of his expert tricks. Read on to find out about my wine blunders—and Aldo’s smart fixes.
Dana Cowin: I was having some friends over for dinner at my house upstate. At the last minute, I ran down to the basement to get a bottle out of the wine fridge. I came back with the best one I could find—a 1999 Domaine Dujac Morey-Saint-Denis premier cru. With a flourish, I handed the bottle to my friend to open. He tasted it and looked displeased but didn’t say anything. I excitedly poured myself a glass—and it was awful. I had to move on to a more modest but drinkable bottle. So, Aldo, where did I go wrong?
Aldo Sohm: One, you should have tasted the wine first. A chef would never send out a sauce without trying it. You want to be courteous by giving your guests the first taste, but it can backfire! Two, you may have stored the wine badly. The worst thing for wine is a spike in temperature.
DC: It was in my wine fridge, but we sometimes have power outages because of storms, so I think you’ve identified my second mistake. Over the course of the last few years, that wine has probably seen a lot of temperature fluctuation.
AS: If you have wine at a consistent 60 or 70 degrees, that’s not great—but it’s better than if, twice a year, the temperature shoots up to 90. Wine evolves in the bottle, so heat spikes give you cooked wine.
DC: So I would’ve been better off just storing the bottles in the basement, but not in the fridge?
AS: Yes, if the temperature is consistent.
DC: There’s another lesson I’m hoping for: Can you teach me the best way to use a waiter’s corkscrew?
AS: I thought you might ask about that. I have a bottle and a waiter’s corkscrew right here. First, you want the knife on the corkscrew, called a foil cutter, to have a real edge. You want a clean cut, otherwise the foil will look like someone chewed it off. Then, you take the worm—that’s the screw-like part—and place it so the point is right at the center of the cork. Insert it slowly. Once it’s almost all the way in, put the lever on the lip of the bottle, using your thumb to hold it in place, and pull straight up. That’s it. Don’t ever push the cork from side to side to try to get it out—you’ll just break it.