Cooked [Kooked] (verb, past tense):
- To prepare (food) by the use of heat, as in baking, boiling, or roasting.
- To subject to the application of heat.
- Slang. To ruin or spoil.
I love to cook, as readers of this blog are well aware. It brings me joy to make food, and it challenges me, requires all of my mental faculties. Normally, cooking is a great thing in my mind. But there is one time, as in the case of definition three, that cooking terrifies me. When we say wine is “cooked” what we mean is that it has been exposed to heat, so much so that it has been irreparably damaged. As a general rule of thumb, wine will change its chemical composition permanently if subjected to eighty degrees for more than thirty six-hours. A wine doesn’t necessarily have to blow the cork out to indicate heat damage; I’ve had a number of wines that showed no signs on the bottle yet were so cooked inside that they weren’t drinkable. Cooked wine typically gives off something of a flat, baked sort of taste, sometimes bricky, a little thin, the dimensions and character being out of whack and undesirable. If you’ve never had the wine in its intended form, it may be hard to tell if it has heat damage, but if you are familiar with the wine, enough so to realize if it isn’t what it’s supposed to be, then you’ll typically know right away.
Whether it is in the wine industry or anywhere else, I am drawn to people who show attention to detail. Wine demands it, but not everyone follows through. Last week, a shipment of wine destined for Nebraska was left on a truck unattended over the weekend. In June. Needless to say much of the wine was damaged by the heat. But there was some wine towards the very center of the truck that, due to the insulation of being surrounded by so much cardboard and other matter, seemed to hold its temperature. Nevertheless, the person who brought the palate in wanted to be sure it was still good. H first held the bottle up to his cheek; it was still cold. That wasn’t good enough, so next he tried it, and detected nothing, and then he gave it to me to try for good measure. Good wine demands attention to detail. In particular, we were concerned about several cases of a particularly special Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt. Veeder, made by our friend Tom Meadowcroft. It’s one of the best wines I’ve ever had — if it isn’t cooked. If it was, it would be a real tragedy, relatively speaking of course, because Tom makes so little of it, and this shipment represented the last of the 2014 vintage. Most of all, I respect Tom as an artist, and I know that he’d be mortified to think that a bottle of wine with his name on it was on a shelf or dinner table somewhere when it wasn’t entirely what he had intended it to be. I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.
So I had this bottle of wine I needed to taste test. Hey, it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it. So first I poured myself a glass from the bottle. If it was obviously cooked I’d know. If the damage was less blatant, however, I’d need some time with this wine I knew well to determine if it might be just a little out of whack. I decanted the rest to give it the best chance of shining, if in fact it wasn’t just cooked.
When the first taste didn’t scare me off, I solicited a second opinion…
…and then a third.
Then I paired it with food…
…and later with a few episodes of The Office.
At last, I concluded that this precious cargo had, by virtue of sheer dumb luck, been spared heat damage because it was in the middle of the truck. Thank goodness. The 2014 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon from Tom Meadowcroft is one of the best wines I know, and I know it even better now. With deep, dark flavors abounding across the palate — blackberry and black currant, black cherry, over ripe plum, leather, and subtle spices, it’s has a beautiful and complex profile and unmistakable mountain fruit character. It’s a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon with elegant structure, and it drinks really nicely right now, but I think it will lay down well for many years to come. I’m thankful that the last shipment of this wine destined for Nebraska wasn’t cooked on a truck by a negligent driver, and I’m equally thankful that I had the opportunity to pair this wine with my life last night.
Cheers to the people who pay attention to detail,