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Serious Entertaining: How to Avoid Five Wine Disasters

Some wine experts say wine is easy. I'm not entirely convinced.

Requiring a special opener, tippy stemmed glassware, and the potential for flavor flaws, wine comes with its own set of pitfalls. Here's how I avoid and recover from five of the most common entertaining-related wine disasters.

1. Broken Cork

Most common? When the cork breaks upon removal, leaving part a cork just out of reach of a cork screw. This happens more with older bottles where the cork may become compromised with age.

When this happens to my Napa Valley friends, they push the remaining cork all the way into the bottle with a butter knife and then strain the wine for cork on the way out. Then pour the wine into a decanter or pitcher through a fine metal strainer—coffee filters might filter some of the delicious sediment out of older wines.

2. Flawed Wine

Ever pour a bottle for friends that smells like wet dog? It's probably corked. Research says that between 1% and 8% of bottles sealed with a cork are tainted with a compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA, a flaw that makes the wine smell and taste like wet or moldy newspaper.

This can be somewhat removed with plastic wrap. Andrew Waterhouse, a professor of wine chemistry at the University of California, Davis, says a corked wine can be improved by pouring the wine into a bowl with a crumpled sheet of plastic wrap. Let the wine sit from 15 minutes to 12 hours. The TCA molecule is chemically similar to polyethylene and it sticks to the plastic. Your wine won't be perfect, but it will be drinkable.

If you stored your bottle in your trunk on a hot day, it may be cooked or oxidized. This means the wine will taste stale, like a bottle that has been open for days. I turn to two solutions in this case. One, have a screw cap back up just in case. Two? Add peaches, rum, and juice, and make some Sangria.

3. Not Enough Wine Glasses

You don't always need the perfect stemmed crystal for wine tasting. We keep these inexpensive candle holders ($1.49 for 4) on hand for easy sipping. I also like these inexpensive Kolsch glasses from Lee Valley for an updated take on a sparkling wine glass. We also store goVino recyclable wine glasses with our paper plates in case we get extra guests.

4. Wine Spills

Some stains you can return to tomorrow; red wine is not one of them. Although it's difficult to avoid spills, you can serve your wine in heavier stemmed glassware to reduce incidents.

Too late? My favorite solution is WineAway, a product that immediately removes red wine stains upon contact.

No WineAway? After dabbing up all the liquid you can, mix 1 teaspoon laundry detergent with 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide and the same amount of water. Scrub until the stain is gone.

5. Wrong Temperature Wine

20100825-seriousentertaining-bottle.jpgIs your wine too cool to really appreciate the flavors? Decanting the wine can help bring it to the proper temperature more quickly. Also, warming the glass in your hand can help release those hints of cassis before you know it.

Need to chill a wine fast? Take a hint from Mythbusters and make a saltwater solution. We use 1/2 cup rock salt for every gallon of water. Add ice and plunge the wine into the mixture—the temperature will drop within minutes.

Although the term "wine disaster" might be an exaggeration, tell me, how have you recovered from wine mishaps?

About the author: Helen Jane Hearn writes about creative entertaining at helenjane.com. Founder of the national cheese club Cheesewhizzes, Helen Jane's bimonthly cheese potlucks have been called "Napa's Best Parties" by Food and Wine magazine (December 2009). During the day, she runs Maplevine, a design consultancy specializing in wineries.

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