Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Bad news uncorked for snobs




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        These are perilous times for the dedicated snob.

        Thanks to surcaps, just about everybody can understand what's going on at the Opera. You can see fine art on street corners if you don't mind finding it on a pig. “My stock portfolio” is a phrase that can be tossed around by anybody with a 401(k) account. And Wendy's serves cordon bleu on a bun.

        Now, comes the disturbing news that wine connoisseursmay have to signal their superiority without benefit of the cork ritual. No more pinching and sniffing. No more withering pronouncements that “this wine is corked.”
       

A new luxury
               Plumpjack, a Napa Valley winery, announced it has “released” 150 cases of its $135-a-bottle 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve with screw tops.

        Right away, I love the notion that they have “released” this wine as if it were the latest Harry Potter book, as if we are just dying to grab a bottle of something that costs more than most of us planned to spend for a winter coat.

        “We are making a whole new luxury category, and people are going to appreciate it,” says a spokesman.

        I guess these would be the same people who “appreciate” $150 tennis shoes and SUVs big enough to qualify for statehood.

        There are lots of overpriced shoes and whale-cars and not enough natural corks, according to vintners. Cork oaks must be at least 25 years old before their cork can be harvested, and harvests can be repeated only every nine or 10 years.

        The tree doesn't produce wine-quality cork, according to the Enquirer'swine columnist, John Vankat, until the third harvest. Add to that a drought in the Mediterranean country where it grows.

        Not surprisingly, “even the best wineries began to experiment with synthetics,” says Kathee VanKirk of the Wine Merchant in Oakley. Still, she's not crazy about screw tops. “Corks are part of the tradition. You wouldn't put a fine piece of art in a cheesy frame.”
       

The nose knows
               I try to give her the impression that I wouldn't dream of doing such a thing. This is assuming I have any fine art, which I doubt.

        And we barbarians may not know much about wine, but we knew if it had a screw top then it probably would take the enamel off your teeth. We certainly were confident it would not cost $135 a bottle.

        You don't have to spend a fortune to get a nice bottle of wine, and it doesn't take much of a nose to sniff and announce that a wine is “corked,” according to John Vankat.

        “It smells like wet cardboard and can happen in expensive or cheap wine with a cork that has become moldy,” he says. “The advantage of a synthetic or a screw top is that this won't happen. What you really want is a good seal.”

        Jimmy Gherardi, proprietor of J's Fresh Seafood in Hyde Park, pronounces the screw tops “perfect. You can reseal the bottle, and you don't have to carry a weapon to get it open.” Well, what about people who enjoy the ritual of pulling out the cork, that satisfying squeak?

        We have an idea. Something plentiful. Something you don't have to wait 45 years to get. Something unpretentious. Something squeaky. Firestone tires.

        “I love it,” Jimmy says. “What else are they going to do with them?”

        I don't know. But I can just hear the wine snobs:

        “An amusing little wine with rubber undertones.”

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8393.
       

       



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