First, a pair of wine discoveries: These compressed-gas canisters, such as Winelife and the Oenophilia Private Preserve Wine Preserver, are inadequately appreciated miracles. Carrying various proprietary blends of heavy gas, all with argon as the prime actor, they extend the life of opened bottles by laying a blanket of heavy, inert gas over the wine. You just stick the WD-40-like nozzle in the bottle, give it a few squirts, and shove the cork back in. The idea is that the heavy gas limits the wine’s contact with oxygen, therefore dramatically slowing oxidation, meaning you can actually save that expensive bottle for a few days—or even a week—after drinking the first glass. Putting the bottle in the refrigerator also helps; and, yes, this applies to red wine as well. The depressed temperature is another contributing factor in slowing down the wine’s oxidation.
These systems work better, in my opinion, than vacuum systems. First of all, we all know that nature abhors a vacuum: By the laws of physics, at least as I understand them, the vacuum created in your wine bottle can only pull gas, and therefore aromatics/bouquet, out of the wine. Secondly, anyone who has ever used these things has had the experience of going to uncork a wine bottle a few days after creating the initial vacuum seal and noticing that, well, there’s no pop. To wit, the vacuum is no more. And the wine, therefore, is also no more.
Wine discovery number two, which is related to wine discovery number one: There really, truly are good Bordeaux experiences available at reasonable prices and without huge amounts of aging. More than a week ago I opened a 2002 Château de Sales Pomerol, which I bought for well under $30. I opened it at the time for a comparative tasting; I reopened it simply because I wanted a drink. And the quality of both the wine preserver and the bottle itself was a surprise. As for the bottle, it has to do with the fact that the Bordeaux experience—the same big, assertive structure we get in good California Cabernets, but with much of the fruit space filled instead by mineral, earth, and tannin—can actually be had at a once-in-a-while splurge price level, not just at the once-in-a-lifetime splurge levels you see for the big-name châteaux in the big-news vintages.
Of course, there was a food discovery informing all of this, as always. Once again, I spent the entire day slaving away in my basement, building my wife a new home office—she’s left town for the occasion—and when it came time to feed myself, I realized I had the makings of an untried-by-me recipe in Lulu’s Provençal Table, my current cookbook flame. Meat and Potato Gratin is the rather unappetizing name; Hachis a la Purée de Pomme de Terre is the French title, translating roughly as hash with mashed potatoes. But in the making—sauté some leftover pot-au-feu beef with an onion and a little savory and drop it into a small baking dish, then mash a boiled potato with milk, butter, and Parmesan, pour that on top, and bake—I’d had yet another of those little old-world lessons. I mean those reassuring lessons about grabbing a bit of these leftovers, and a few of those standard, always-got-’em ingredients, and whipping up something comforting. I added to that lesson the remnants of a Bordeaux I’d had open for … two weeks? Not sure exactly, but easily that long, under the protection of argon gas. And when I found them both off-the-hook delicious and life-affirming, I knew I’d had not only a meal but an education in the well-lived life.