In my never-ending quest for the perfect ten-dollar bottle of red wine — I can’t even imagine what a hundred-dollar bottle would taste like, though I’d be happy to find out on somebody else’s dime — I found, a few years ago, a pretty good cabernet sauvignon from South Africa called Excelsior, which actually cost less than ten bucks a bottle and less still if you bought it by the case at Glendale Liquors, God’s gift to Kendall Park and the rest of central New Jersey. My imbibulation consultant told me Excelsior was so good that it would have cost twice as much if it hailed from a known wine-producing country, and when I tried it I had to agree.
Oddly enough — to me, anyway — each bottle of Excelsior had a plastic cork, which I could live with. Sometimes the seal was so tight that opening the bottle with a corkscrew entailed more grunting and groaning than an Olympic weight-lifting match, but hey, sometimes you gotta work for the things you love.
After a while, however, the plastic plug was replaced by a screw-on cap. Suddenly, I lost my taste for the wine. Screw-tops brought back too many collegiate memories of New Brunswick derelicts toting their bottles of Night Train and Mad Dog 20/20. I try to avoid the more obvious forms of snobbery, and wine snobbery is about as obvious as you can get, but the screw-top business turned me right off.
Since I don’t read grapezines like Wine Spectator, little did I know that I had unknowingly taken sides in an ongoing war, but I learned better after reading To Cork or Not To Cork, a new book by George M. Taber, a former Time magazine reporter who managed to wring an interesting narrative from the debate over whether traditional corks are preferable to the plastic plugs and screw-tops that make for a more perfect seal. So the screw-cap wasn’t Excelsior being chintzy, it was an attempt to protect the wine. My bad.
Long story short: Taber finds that a more perfect seal doesn’t necessarily benefit the wine, and since the uncorking is for many people a big part of the fun of an evening’s guzzling, sensory pleasure ought to trump other considerations.
Aside from my love for red wine, I was interested in the book because Taber also founded a Garden State business news magazine called NJBiz, sold it a few years ago for a nice piece of change and headed off to New England to age alongside his vintages. While still running NJBiz, Taber was a regular commentator on New Jersey’s wingnut radio station, where he drew attention with his goofy, whooping sign-off: “New Jersey . . . One-Oh-One . . . POINT . . . FIIIIVE!” I think this new line of his is a lot more palatable than the old one. His subject is certainly a lot easier to swallow than anything put out by WingOhWingPointJive.