If you ever look like you’ve just been hanging out with the lions at feasting time after drinking wine, such is the extent of your red-stained lips, tongue and teeth, you might like to read on. It’s an annoyance at the best of times, but for some of us it can prove especially costly when trying to negotiate our way past that surly bouncer, a blatant giveaway to our concealed inebriation.
As you jealously look on at others and wonder why they don’t also resemble the cast of Interview with the Vampire, it’s not because you’ve been drinking cheap plonk. Your teeth are covered with a thin layer of wine-coloured saliva. You see teeth are porous, made up of thousands of tiny little lines called dentin tubules, which run from the nerve to the surface of the enamel. Some people’s enamel is weaker and more porous – blame genetics and possibly your dental hygiene as a young brat. The red wine becomes lodged in these tube-like structures that no amount of water or brushing will remove.
The solution? I find swirling some white wine around your mouth does the trick – in my heady days as a grape-picker in France all the soap and water in the world would not remove the stubborn red grape stains on our hands at the end of each day. However once we moved on to picking white grapes the juice acted to cause it to disappear instantly. You’ll be surprised that the same works here – all evidence of red wine consumption is destroyed. Now try to act sober.
If you have ever encountered a wine that is dull and lifeless in colour, has a musty nose, and tastes of mould with hints of wet newspaper and carpet, you probably know what it feels like to get a corked wine. The screwcap was introduced in 2001 as an answer to this problem, which affects up to 15% of all wines, depending on which expert you believe. There is still a popular myth that wine closed with a screwcap means a tacky or inferior product. These days many of the world’s best wine producers swear by them.
The romantics among us (this writer included) revel in the special ritual of cutting away the foil, sinking the screw into the cork, pulling it out with a assertive ‘POP’, intensely sniffing the wood before confidently giving our verdict on its contents (at this stage, to whoever will listen). Sure where is the joy in opening a wine bottle in a matter of seconds like it were a can of coke?
For all the merits of this ceremony you’d wonder if the high spoilage rate is worthwhile. Cork is a product of nature after all, and its inconsistency can lead to significant amounts of air which can taint the wine. Having said that the cork also has the incredible ability to let the wine breathe, something which is important in ageing wines. At this stage we don’t really know how screwcaps will affect wine in this ageing process. Cork is also a green, sustainable product.
While the screwcap is ideal in that it has a perfectly air-tight seal, almost guaranteeing flavour and freshness, this isn’t entirely beneficial. The unpleasant smell of hydrogen sulfide, a by-product of the fermentation process, can become completely trapped inside a wine bottle sealed by screwcap. In general though, the screwcap has an almost zero percent failure rate. This makes it the ideal closure for most wines.
As for plastic corks, forget it. Any obstacle which prevents you from gaining desperate access to the bottle at 4 in the morning without a corkscrew or best efforts of knife, hammer or whatever other blunt instrument ready to hand, is not the answer.
Have you ever seen somebody take a glass, swirl the wine around, examine it and wistfully declare ‘This wine has good legs’?
Once accepted as a sign of quality, the legs, or tears as the French call them, are the streaks of wine that cling to the side of the glass as the wine is swirled about. Granted it is a pleasant aspect of tasting wine, and conversation; comtemplating life as the beads of wine run down the glass. The legs actually have nothing to do with the quality of wine – they reflect its alcohol content.
Now for a brief science lesson (stay with me): Legs occur because of the fact that alcohol has a lower surface tension and faster evaporation rate than water. As you swirl your wine around the glass, the bits sticking to the side begin to evaporate. As the alcohol evaporates faster the changed alcohol-to-water mix now has different surface tension areas. Eventually gravity wins, the water’s surface tension breaks, and it falls back down the glass, in tears. Try covering your next glass of wine and see if the legs appear. No evaporation – no legs.
So, next time somebody announces that a wine has great legs, you can attempt explaining the above. Or perhaps nod your head in agreement and suggest what a great ass it has too.