Last week we encouraged purchasing wines not meant for immediate consumption, but with a caveat: You need to be able to store your wines in a fashion that will preserve their flavors and allow them to reach their potential.
Seeking out and then buying a great bottle of wine is a waste of time and money if it ends up sitting on a rack nestled in the space between the top of the refrigerator and a kitchen cabinet. After all, heat rises — and kitchens get very hot indeed. Even less expensive wines can be ruined if improperly stored.
There are a few basic principles to consider when selecting a site to keep your wines. Unless all of your bottles are closed with screw-tops (not that there is anything wrong with them), keep in mind that cork is naturally porous and the space will have to be large enough to allow the wines to be placed on their sides to keep the cork moist to prevent shrinking. If the cork dries out enough, air can enter the bottle, resulting in oxidation of the wine. Ugh.
The ideal location would offer an optimum temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit (wine really doesn’t begin to suffer until more like 70 degrees, but cooler is better). Worse for your wines is wide temperature fluctuation, so any spot like a closet or basement where temperature is likely to remain more constant is preferable. The location should also ideally be vibration free, dark (because UV light can affect flavors), and not too dry.
Humidity is important to help keep the cork moist, ideally 60 to 70 percent, but don’t worry too much about it unless you’re planning to store your wines for years. If you don’t want to invest in a commercial humidifier, consider the approach of one of our engineer neighbors: a 5-gallon plastic bucket partially filled with water to raise the humidity in his cellar, to which he added a couple pieces of copper pipe (that he roughed up with a wire brush) to discourage bacteria growth.
After you have set up your wine storage site, consider as one of your first purchases the excellent Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, another of the outstanding kosher wines created by Jeff Morgan in California. Cassis, black cherry and chocolate aromas and flavors flow smoothly and persist in this full-bodied, velvet-smooth beauty along with red currants, coffee, graphite, mint and oak leading to a prolonged finish. It can certainly be enjoyed now but will only get better if properly stored for several more years.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d continue our summer cocktail theme a little longer. Several of our readers remarked in wonderment how we could extol the virtues of gin-based cocktails without discussing the martini. How gauche! Rest assured that we have in no way forgotten so classic a cocktail.
Like so many of the best classic cocktails, the exact origins of the martini are obscure and hotly debated. Of course, what ultimately continues to sustain interest in the martini is the drink itself, not its pedigree. A simple yet sublime concoction of gin and dry vermouth, perhaps with some bitters and either a lemon twist or green olives. But not everyone is into so traditional a formula. As everyone knows, for example, in the movies James Bond preferred a vodka martini: “Shaken, not stirred.”
As in most things, connoisseurs have very definite, often tediously pedantic, ideas about every aspect of every nuance of their martinis. Like whether it should be shaken or stirred, served with bitters or without, garnished with a twist of lemon, a couple of olives or nothing at all — not to mention the more fundamental question of gin versus vodka, and to what ratio it should be mixed with vermouth. Whatever. In matters of taste, the only opinion that counts is your own — or maybe, whoever is paying for your drinks. Our preferred basic martini recipe follows:
The Martini: Pour 2 ½ ounces of dry gin (any decent quality London Dry Gin will do, such as Bombay, Tanqueray, Miller’s, etc., depending on your taste) or vodka (the smoother the better) into a cocktail mixer filled with hard, cracked ice, add a ½ ounce of dry vermouth, stir quickly with a long cocktail spoon until everything is super cold, then strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass and serve. Garnish with a twist of lemon zest or anywhere from one to three green olives.
Although it entails considerably more work, consider the “Earl Grey MarTEAni” as a most pleasant diversion. The drink is the creation of New York mixologist Audrey Saunders. It is a pretty simple formula: a spirit base, some acidity (fresh lemon juice), some sweetener (“simple syrup,” which is just bartender-speak for a 1-to-1 ratio syrup made by dissolving sugar in water), and an egg white for texture and added depth. As in all such things, however, the genius is in the details. The spirit that serves as the base here is Tanqueray Gin that has been specially infused with Earl Grey tea.
In the Earl Grey MarTEAni, Ms. Saunders’ genius was in recognizing that the distinct bergamot flavors of Earl Grey would somehow blend well with the botanicals in “London Dry”-style gin. The lemon juice helps to bind and tame the flavors, while adding a supportive zing, the simple syrup helps balance out the acidity while complementing the tea, and the egg white elevates the whole into something rich and silky. The egg white is not essential (its about texture and volume, not flavor), but it is definitely worth a try.
To infuse your gin, simply add loose Earl Grey tea leaves to gin and let it steep — just like you were making a pot of tea (only you substitute gin for boiling water). Let this steep for anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours, then gradually strain out the tea leaves. You can use more or fewer tea leaves and a larger or smaller volume of gin — obviously you can also use a tea bag, if you prefer. Such details and subtleties aren’t ever really as important as mixologists insist. Just be sure when straining the loose tea leaves or when removing the tea bags, not to press them — otherwise you’ll extract bitter tannins.
Here then is the Earl Grey MarTEAni (adapted from Audrey Saunders’ recipe):
Pour 1 1/2 ounces of your Earl Grey Gin Infusion, 3/4 of an ounce (about 4 tablespoons) of fresh lemon juice with 1 ounce of simple syrup, and 1 egg white into a cocktail shaker filled at least 2/3 full of hard, cracked ice. Shake the hell out of it for about 15 seconds or so, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon. We don’t bother with this last step, but it should be noted that the original recipe calls for the prechilled cocktail glass to be rimmed with lemon zest infused sugar (finely grate the zest of 1 whole lemon and mix with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar).
The end result is a delicate and lovely, a very decadent cross between tea and cocktail — subtle citrus supported by floral and woody notes (from the bergamot), and the tea adds a slight bitterness to the strong juniper of the gin. Think of this as a cup of Earl Grey tea with sugar and lemon, and a nicely integrated shot of hooch.