Questions For The Peripatetic Oenophile


Celebrated wine aficionado, Ron Kapon, who is known in the wine circles as the Peripatetic Oenophile — the traveling wine expert — answers questions that Cheese Connoisseur readers have asked.

As more people are becoming accustomed to drinking and serving wine, I find myself asked more and more questions.

Here are a few that I wanted to share with the readers of Cheese Connoisseur magazine.

Q: Our daughter is getting married at our house. Any suggestions on buying the alcohol?

RK: Find out if unopened bottles can be returned. Most stores will not accept chilled wines and champagnes for return, because the temperature changes may affect the quality of the product. Is the party during the day or evening? Is it on a workday or weekend? The amount people drink will increase if they can sleep late the next day. On the average, figure two drinks per hour for the first hour, and one drink per hour after that. Also, the more food served, the more people are apt to drink. And if it is a young crowd, then increase the amount of vodka, rum, tequila and beer, and decrease the amount of scotch, bourbon and gin. Just remember, single malt scotches are becoming increasingly more popular with younger drinkers. Gin can often work in recipes calling for vodka. Rye, bourbon and Canadian whiskey are often interchangeable in recipes. To make life easier, make a champagne punch. If the crowd is health-conscious, then increase the amount of wine. One 750ml bottle of liquor will be enough for approximately 15 cocktails. With wine and champagne, figure seven drinks per bottle.


Q: Why is wine so expensive in restaurants?

RK: One of the great pleasures I enjoyed while living in Europe was the opportunity to drink wines with every meal and at very little cost. Most restaurants in the United States have wine lists that are uninspiring and very expensive. Someone must have told owners of restaurants that it is okay to take their cost and triple or quadruple it. My rule of thumb is the cost of the wine should never exceed a liquor store retail price doubled. And forget wine by the glass if there are three or four of you ordering wine. A bottle will give you seven glasses. The least expensive wines are often poor values, as most restaurants have a minimum price set for any wine. A $10.99 Beaujolais (retail price) will often end up at $30 on a list. Don’t forget to check out the local BYOB places. I will often call the restaurant in advance if I am bringing an exceptional wine from my own collection to celebrate an occasion. I ask what the corkage fee would be, and that decides if I am dining there that night. I never pay over $25 for corkage.

Q: What is the proper way to open and serve a bottle of wine?

RK: First, cut the foil around the edge of the bottle (a foil cutter does the job easily), and then draw the cork. I use both a level-type waiters corkscrew or a screw pull. The point of any corkscrew should be in line with the spirals of the worm and have an open space down the center. If the cork crumbles or breaks, use a tea strainer or coffee filter to remove the bits of cork. The simple trick in pouring wine is to twist the bottle slightly just as you finish pouring. This will prevent the last drop from spilling on the tablecloth or on your guests. With champagne, grasp the bottle firmly at the neck and twist the bottle, not the cork. Remember, once you have removed the wire covering on the bottle, hold your thumb over the cork to prevent it from shooting out and possibly injuring someone.

Q: What does it mean when someone says a wine is bad?

RK: “Bad” sometimes means the wine is vinegary, garlicky, fizzy or cloudy. But the most common problem is the wine is either maderized (overly oxidized) or corky. If a moldy cork is used to seal an otherwise sound wine, the moldiness will be reflected in the aroma and taste. If the mold or grime is on the top outer surface of the cork, this will have no effect on the bottle contents. An overly oxidized wine is called maderized because of the premature browning of color and the nutty, cooked flavor characteristic of Madeira and sherry.

wine barrels

Q: What is the proper way to store wine?

RK: The cork should be kept moist by lying it down to prevent oxygen from coming in contact with the wine. The air we breathe will destroy wine. Direct light, odors and vibrations are also harmful. Ideal storage temperature is 55 to 65 degrees F with relative humidity from 65 to 75 percent. Higher humidity will cause bottle labels to mold. Try hair spray on the label, which will waterproof them. I have three wine storage units in my apartment that keep the proper temperature and humidity.

Q: At what temperature should I be serving wine?

RK: When it says room temperature for a red wine, this does not mean 75 degrees F in an overheated apartment or restaurant. Ideally, 50 to 55 degrees F is best for serving white wines; 50 degrees F for champagne and sparkling wines. Two or three hours in the refrigerator will do the job. If you place the bottle in your freezer, don’t leave it there for more than five to 10 minutes.

Q: Do wine glasses have to be cleaned in a special manner?

RK: Well-polished glassware adds to the festive allure of still or sparkling wine. Fill your wine glass with hot water. Keeping it under the faucet, run a finger around the rim, and then empty it. Dry while still warm with a clean linen towel. Avoid using detergent. Even the slightest trace of soap left in a glass will kill bubbles. Hand washing is preferable to a dishwasher, since glasses can pick up odors from other dishes. Clean, dry glasses should be stored upright, not upside down, since these can pick up surface odors.

You can read more from Ron Kapon here.

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