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Wine Tip: Bad Wine? Don't Pour it Out!

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from author John Hailman’s book ‘The Search for Good Wine’ which will be available for purchase September 2014 from the University of Mississippi Press. This particular chapter was written on November 12, 1989.
How often have you grabbed an unknown bottle from a wine store shelf on thew ay home only to discover when you got there that you hated it?
After you get home, tired from the work day and miles from the wine store, it is usually too late to take it back. If it is really spoiled, you can always return it the next day for a refund or replacement from any reputable store. But the more common problem is that the wine is not spoiled, but just wildly to your taste. You can’t take it back. What to do?
Tasting Wines
At times like these, all high-minded notions of wine as a noble gift from above can be laid aside, and you get down to a serious art well known since the Greeks: doctoring the wine. First, and simplest, if you have nothing else in the house and there is a tornado outside, you can simply water the wine a little and ice it down. Chilling covers defects in both the aroma and taste of wine if you get it cold enough, and if you get it really cold it will deaden your palate as well.
If mere chilling is not enough to save it, you can use what the French call the “Spanish” method: add orange juice and/or lemon juice and sugar, cinnamon, or almost any flavoring and call it Sangria, a respectable drink, invented to spare slightly souring wines.
if you want to be a bit more classical, you can add a few squirts of Creme de Cassis kept around for these occasions and call the stuff Kir (pronounced ‘keer’). Kir is actually a pretty good aperitif, thought up apparently in Burgundy by a priestly member of the French Resistance as a way to make slightly vinegared white Burgundies palatable until the war was over. There are even a few pre-mixed Kirs around if you want to try one to find out what it is supposed to taste like. Otherwise, my recipe has always been one or two teaspoons of Cassis to each wine-glass fun, depending on how far gone the wine is. When you make it from cheap bubbly, it is called a “Kir Royale”.
In midwinter, you can make the pleasantest cold remedy known to man: hot wine. The English call this “mulled” wine, for reasons no double known to them, and you can find recipes for it under the name in many cookbooks.
Bad-Wine-310x168For some reason, hot wine has always tasted better to me when made with red wine rather than white. All you really need to make it is a mug to heat or microwave it in, and a little sugar and lemon juice. You will also need a bed to fall into, since hot wine makes you sleepy very quickly on a cold winter’s night. It can also break a fever by making you sweat profusely, so you may have to change the bed, but hey, it’s worth it to get well.
If hot wine does not sound like your dish, you can violate a cardinal rule of good cooks and cook with any wine too bad to drink. Generally, it is wise to cook only with wine good enough to drink, but if you have nothing else, and the wine is not really foul or overly sweet or vinegary, you can boil it down with a stock or some meet drippings into a fairly good sauce.
If you’re bored with your usual sauces, you can do what my caterer/wife does: switch the okay white-meat with white wine rule, and cook your chicken in red wine (coq auin) or simmer your beef roast in white wine which makes it tangier and lighter at the same time.
If your wine is too bad to save by Kiring or boiling, it should probably be taken back to the store. Faced with an offer of either taste the stuff themselves or just give you your money back, most store owners will spare the palate and spoil the customer.
hailman-150x150-1John Hailman of Oxford is a regular contributor to HottyToddy.com on two subjects: Law and Wine. Now retired from both his “day job” as a federal prosecutor in Oxford after 33 years and his “night job” of 25 years as a nationally syndicated daily columnist in more than 100 daily papers on wine, food and travel for Gannett News Service and the Washington Post, Hailman will cover both topics under the titles of The Legal Eagle and Wine Tips of the Week. HottyToddy.com will also run periodic excerpts from Hailman’s upcoming book of humorous legal stories, From Midnight to Guntown: True Crime Stories From A Federal Prosecutor in Mississippi. Hailman now teaches Federal Trial Practice and Law and Literature at the University of Mississippi.

'The Search for Good Wine' by John Hailman will be available September 2014 /Copyright 2014, University of Mississippi Press
‘The Search for Good Wine’ by John Hailman will be available September 2014 /Copyright 2014, University of Mississippi Press

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