1940s Archive

Vin Ordinaire in America

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Third, remember that the post office address of a winery on a label means precisely nothing at all. A “producer” in Napa can sell unblended Fresno wine if he sees fit, and a single winery near Livermore has actually bottled and sold, in the last five years, at least twice as much wine as the whole Livermore Valley produced. If you want to be sure of the origin of your wine, insist on some appellation like Sonoma Claret or Santa Clara Zinfandel.

Fourth, if you are experimenting in an effort to find something you like, tell your wine merchant what you are doing and give him your frank and outspoken opinion of the wines you try. Other people may be doing the same thing—they can benefit by your experience and you by theirs.

A great bottle of wine, in a well-ordered house, has its quiet and respected place in the cellar, and its last mile to the execution block on the diningroom table is as hedged round with etiquette and ceremony as a Spanish bull-fight. A vin ordinaire, on the other hand, is a friendly and familiar little job, and the less etiquette the better. My own favorite way of serving it is in an earth-enware carafe, or in a wooden pichet, made out of beautifully coopered little oak staves, with a copper handle and copper lip—I bought it years ago in France. But a simple glass carafe will do as well and will give your guests and yourself the impression that you are drinking, not the fixed contents of a bottle, but as much or as little as you happen to want. Which, incidentally, is the way to drink vin ordinaire.

Belonging as it does in the kitchen, and not in the padlocked wine cellar, vin ordinaire should be consumed as one's thirst dictates, but it should never be wasted. To throw away half a bottle or half a gallon of wine is as poor housekeeping as to throw away half a chicken or half a leg of lamb. Wine, even common wine, it is true, has to be handled with a certain amount of care unless you want vinegar on your hands, but the rules for storing wine are simple and require no special equipment or special knowledge.

  1. Wine is liable to spoil if kept for more than a day or so at a temperature of over 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Wine will certainly spoil within a matter of hours if exposed to the air; never, therefore, try to keep a half-empty bottle or half-empty jug, even in a refrigerator, and even if corked.
  3. The best plan is to have on hand a collection of empty bottles of various sizes and a few corks (ordinary, conical drugstore corks will do); as soon as you open your gallon or half-gallon jug, or your full bottle, pour off the wine that you do not expect to use immediately, into one or more of your empties, and cork them, leaving not more than a quarter of an inch of air space between the wine and the cork. So rebottled, the wine will be good for at least two or three months.
  4. Bottled wines with corks should be stored lying down—this keeps the corks moist and tight. But such precautions are unnecessary if you expect to use the wine within less than a week.
  5. You can keep white vin ordinaire in the refrigerator indefinitely, but the ideal temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees. Repeated chillings, if the wine is allowed to warm up each time, will damage any wine.
  6. The best storage temperature for red wine is 60 degrees, but ten degrees higher or lower are of no importance to an ordinaire.

  7. Most jugs, gallon or half-gallon, are hermetically sealed with a screwcap, and it makes little difference whether you store them standing upright or on their side. The latter is perhaps preferable if you propose to keep them for any length of time.
  8. Sunlight is bad for wine, especially wine in clear white bottles or jugs.
  9. The cheapest way to buy wine is in gallon jugs, which come four to the case, as compared with six half-gallon jugs (3 gallons) or twelve bottles (2.4 gallons).
  10. Forty million Frenchmen, and an unknown number of Italians, Spaniards, and Americans, have demonstrated the fact that vin ordinaire is habit-forming. The author wishes to state in closing that you will have a hard time finding a more pleasant habit to form.
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