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Bottle Variation Under Stelvin

There is nothing sexy about twisting a screw cap in front of a guest on the restaurant floor.  Pouring a sip of the wine for the host that ensues has always made me ponder whether or not this ritual no longer has utilitarian purpose.  At best, it is a vestigial ceremony.  There have often been quips from guests like, “Obviously it’s not corked!” as they slam it down their gullet and reengage in conversation. 

A couple nights ago, I was forced to rethink my dogmatic stance.  I was lucky enough to be at the right bar at the right time.   A fellow wine enthusiast came in and sat next to me at the restaurant’s bar where I was dining.  He had in tow 2 half bottles of Bonny Doon’s Le Cigar Volant from the 2004 vintage.  After he tasted the first half bottle he told the bartender that he needed a second round of glasses for the other bottle.  The first one seemed off. 

I couldn’t help but ask to taste his wine.  It was good.  Acidity was elevated, fruit was subdued, but overall a tasty beverage.  Then came the second half bottle.  It was magnificent- one of those wines that you don’t want to drink in order to have more time smelling it. 

I was perplexed.  How could 2 bottles that came from the same case and stored in the same cellar under Stelvin closure taste so different?  I realized that I had in my phone the perfect solution, Randall Graham’s cell phone number.  We hosted a winemaker dinner a few years ago at my restaurant.  As he made the wine and is one of the most erudite winemakers I’ve ever met, I sent him a text message asking about the anomaly.  He responded:

“It happens occasionally but mercifully not very often with Stelvin. Could be cellar error (though I trust fairly unlikely) of maybe more SO2 in one part of tank than another- we have procedures in place to generally rule that out.  Most likely a mechanical defect of Stelvin or injury to bottle somewhere in its lifetime.   We have cellar procedures that test the function of the Stelvin spinner- our crew is generally good at following.  Sorry for the funky bottle.  But thanks so much for your support.”   

In summation, there is a thing called a Stelvin spinner that I was unaware of and Randall is a wonderful human being.  Oh and bottle variation can happen under Stelvin.