7 Wine Emergencies (And How to Fix Them in a Pinch)

7 Wine Emergencies (And How to Fix Them in a Pinch)


You can't tell by looking at it that your favorite wine is about to betray you. You didn't do anything wrong. You fought your way through rush hour crowds to procure it, you chose a food pairing that's a love letter to its aromas and curves.

But when you go to have that first glass of it, annoyance strikes. The cork snaps off in the neck, or worse: It crumbles. Now what?

There are drinking problems -- those that require tearful interventions and soul-searching -- and then there are drinking problems: broken and stubborn corks, warm bottles, and red wine stains left behind on white cushions and countertops. Let's break down seven common wine crises, and how to solve them with what's on hand.

Solution: A wooden spoon

The best defense against a stubborn or busted cork is a great corkscrew: always make sure you have a good waiter's friend with a nice long, grooved worm at your disposal (the groove offers even better grip on the cork). But plenty of waiter's friend-wielding wine drinkers have still told us that they encounter the dreaded immoveable cork from time to time. If you have all the time in the world -- or are dealing with a particularly old or special bottle -- go pick up an Ah-So, a specialized corkscrew with thin prongs that slip between the outside of the cork and the neck of the bottle.

If you're in a hurry, one way to get the cork out is to get the cork in. Wrap the neck in a towel or cloth, and use the handle of a wooden spoon -- or even a mascara tube or Sharpie marker (tie a string around it for easy retrieval in the event that you dunk it) -- and push the cork down into the wine. Pouring the wine gets a little trickier, but you'll definitely get that precious liquid out of the bottle.

Solution: An unbleached coffee filter

Similar to the cork that won't move at all, one approach to coping with a cork that snaps in half upon removal is to push the remaining pieces down into the wine itself. In this instance, however, you'll be left with unnpleasant shards and splinters of wood swimming in your Syrah.

Enter the everyday, unbleached coffee filter. Pour the wine through the filter into a decanter (or in an especially tight pinch, straight into the stemware). Even better: if you have cheesecloth tucked into some corner of your kitchen, it's an ideal way to filter out anything you don't want to drink, including fine sediment.

Solution: Salt

You want to drink that Champagne or white wine, but it's still grocery-store-shelf room temperature. There are several ways to achieve a quick chill. Lay down a layer of ice and salt in a bucket, plant your bottle in the center, and continue layering ice and salt until its covered. Then fill the bucket with cold water.

To pick up a quick chill on an everyday bottle, wrap it in wet paper towels and stick it in the freezer for no longer than ten minutes.

Solution: A tree

It typically happens at a picnic. There's a lovely blanket in the grass, a basket full of food, a fun wine selected for outdoor drinking ... and someone forgot to pack the corkscrew (and unfortunately didn't opt for a screwtop bottle). If you're truly lacking in all other tools -- including those narrow items you can use to push the cork into the bottle -- it's time to try a neighboring tree. Wrap the bottle in something soft (your blanket, a sweatshirt), and firmly rap the bottom of the bottle onto a reasonably flat section of wide tree branch.

Note: If you've reached this level of desperation, be patient and consistent; we recently tested this method with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and the trunk of an old oak tree, it took 42 firm taps before the cork began to squeeze out.

Solution: White wine

If you tip a glass of Pinot Noir onto your blouse, couch, or carpet, dab the excess liquid, and then reach for the Chardonnay. Pour an equal amount of the white wine over the red stain; the white will dilute the pigmentation in the red, and make the stain easier to remove. Once you've dealt with the immediate stain and are preparing for future ones, consider investing in a stash of Wine Away -- it actually works.

Solution: Empty half bottles

There are gadgets and wine accessories galore meant to help solve the problem of leftovers -- vaccums, inert gas sealants -- and there are diehard believers and detractors for each of them. The goal in preserving wine is to minimize both the amount of oxygen in the bottle, and the surface area of the wine that is exposed to that oxygen. To reduce both, transfer your leftovers to half bottles, recork them, and keep them in the fridge (the cold slows down the reactions that degrade the wine).

Solution: A recipe that you do love

You picked up some cheap-and-cheerful wines for the beach, or some co-workers gave you some less-than-stellar bottles at your last dinner party. If you don't feel like filling up your glass with them, keep them on hand for cooking. Yes, we know the adage that if you wouldn't drink it, don't put it in your food, but let's not go overboard: there's a large category of wines that wouldn't be your first choice for your glass, but that do just fine in a glaze or braise. And don't forget sangria -- a delicious solution to any surplus supply of run-of-the-mill reds or whites.

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