By Jerry Zezima
Because I am a connoisseur of fine wines, and have the liquor store bills to prove it, I can say with great authority and a slight hangover that when it comes to pairing wine and food, reds go with Slim Jims and whites go with Twinkies.
For this impressive expertise, I am known to oenophiles, Francophiles and especially juveniles as a real corker. But until recently, I had never corked wine or even bottled the stuff.
So I went to Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck, New York, to see how the professionals do it.
My instructor was Patrick Caserta, Shinn’s talented winemaker, who was working with Jon Sidewitz, Carlos Magana and Rosa Ulan to bottle and cork 230 cases of cabernet franc.
“Would you like some?” Patrick asked.
“It’s 10 o’clock in the morning,” I pointed out.
“Wine for breakfast is pretty good,” Patrick said.
“Cheers!” I replied as I sipped and savored the fruity red nectar.
“This cab franc has been aged in a stainless steel tank for a short time,” Patrick explained. “It’s young.”
“Unlike me,” I said. “I’ve been fermenting for almost seven decades.”
“You have quite a vintage,” Patrick noted.
“It’s just sour grapes,” I said.
The grapes in Patrick’s cabernet were anything but sour. In fact, they were wonderfully refreshing.
“When we harvest these grapes, we don’t add sulfur,” Patrick told me. “It’s a fruitier kind of wine that should be chilled at cellar temperature.”
“I don’t have a cellar,” I said.
“Then you should drink it right away,” Patrick said.
I stuck my large nose in the small glass that contained the cab franc, inhaled without drowning and swallowed the rest of the wine.
“It tickles the palate,” I declared.
“It also tickles the pallets,” said Patrick, adding that each one holds 60 cases.
“I rest my case,” I told him.
“Good,” said Patrick. “Now you can help bottle and cork the wine.”
The bottling part involved putting an empty glass container under an apparatus that would feed the wine into the bottle.
“You have to fit the top of the bottle against the rubber seal,” Patrick instructed. “If you don’t do it right, the bottle will keep filling and the wine will spray all over like a geyser.”
“With me,” I said, “it would be a geyser on a geezer.”
No such mishap occurred because I put the bottle directly into the seal and watched as the wine flowed freely and flawlessly, stopping exactly at the top.
“Nice job!” exclaimed Patrick, who said the wine was being pumped from a tank by gravity.
“Sir Isaac Newton must have discovered it when a grape fell on his head,” I theorized.
Patrick nodded and began to tell me about ethyl acetate.
“Who’s she?” I wondered.
“The wife of Norman Acetate,” replied Patrick, adding that it’s an organic compound in fermentation.
After my successful bottling, I attempted to put a cork in it. This entailed bringing the bottle to the corking machine, pressing a thin metal trigger and watching the cork be plunged snugly into the top of the bottle.
“You’re a real pro!” said Patrick, who’s 46.
“You were born when I reached the legal drinking age,” I said.
“No wonder you’re so good at this,” said Patrick, who let me fill and cork several more bottles. “You’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into it.”
“Maybe this batch should be known as Cabernet Jerry,” I suggested.
“You can tell Mrs. Zezima you had a hand in it,” Patrick said, referring to my wife, Sue, who, like me, is a Shinn Wine Club member.
“What about Franc?” I asked.
“We won’t tell him,” said Patrick, adding that my cab would pair well with chicken or hamburgers.
“It’s the best wine I’ve ever had,” I gushed. “I can’t wait to try it with Slim Jims.”
Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima