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Why don't you put a cork in it - and then take it home


I have an answer for an old problem: What to do with the wine cork that a restaurant waiter presents to me?

Now, thanks to a new state law, I am going to give the cork back to the waiter and tell him to use it for recorking. This is what you call the practice of putting the cork back in the wine bottle and carrying the partially finished bottle home.

As of Saturday this will be legal in Maryland. Dubbed the "wine doggy bag bill," the law allows Maryland restaurant goers to treat leftover wine as if it were an unfinished entree. Namely, they can ask the waiter to wrap it up and send it home with them.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland, which backed the bill, claims it will encourage responsible drinking. Prohibiting customers from taking home a partially consumed bottle of wine entices them to drink more than they may normally consume, the association said in a statement. Recorking gives the customer the choice of finishing the wine at home instead of being forced to drink it or lose it, the association said.

Last week, as the day for the new law drew near, area restaurateurs told me they were briefing their staffs on the rules and rituals of recorking.

Several said they would remind customers that under Maryland law a recorked bottle of wine still is considered an "open container" and can't be placed in the passenger area of a vehicle. That means it has to ride in the trunk, locked glove compartment or cargo area of a vehicle.

They also offered practical advice to people considering recorking. "If you put a bottle in the trunk, wedge it in. You don't want it rolling around," said Nelson Carey of the Grand Cru restaurant in Baltimore's Belvedere Square. "And you don't want to forget that it is there." If a bottle of wine spends a summer afternoon in the trunk of car, "it is cooked," Carey said.

Getting a fat cork back in a bottle can be difficult but Paul Miguez, general manager of Lewnes' in Annapolis, said there is a trick to the process. "One end of the cork, the one in contact with the wine, is usually narrower than the other end," he said. Experience has taught him, he said, to lead with the narrow end.

Then there are the screw-top wines. "They have less romance, but often provide a more effective seal," at least before they are cracked open, said P.J. Mailloux, assistant manager of O'Leary's restaurant in Eastport. Asked how he would reseal a screw-top wine, Mailloux said he probably could "stick a cork in it."

Most restaurateurs said they thought the recorking rule would encourage customers to select better bottles of wine.

"Somebody can order a Bordeaux," said Jordan Naftal, owner of Jordan's Steakhouse in Ellicott City, "and even if he doesn't finish it, he knows he can take it home."

Recorking could also be a boon for solo business diners, said Brian Fiori, general manager of the Morton's steakhouse in the Sheraton hotel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. "We have a lot of single diners from the hotel," he said, who like to have fine wine with their meals. He said the recorking rules will allow these diners to pick a bottle of wine from the part of the restaurant's wine list that offers the widest selection, then bring the leftovers to their room.

Buying a bottle of wine is usually much less expensive than buying the equivalent amount of the same wine by the glass. That made me wonder whether the new recorking rules would cause a drop in sales of wine by the glass.

Chris Spann, owner of the Wine Market, a Locust Point restaurant and wine shop, said he did not think so. Customers who buy wine by the glass generally are "experimental, trying new things," he said. Recorking would not change that, he said.

Finally, the restaurateurs warned that recorking has its limits, that once a wine has been opened, the clock is ticking, even if the bottle is recorked. "Wine is a living organism," said Michel Tersiguel, executive chef of Tersiguel's restaurant in Ellicott City, adding that once a wine is exposed to oxygen, it starts dying.

Unless a recorked bottle of wine has been injected with gases and sealed - a costly procedure that no restaurant I spoke with was contemplating - it has a life span of about three to five days, I was told. After that, a recorked wonder would become a cooking wine.


Podcasts featuring Rob Kasper are available at baltimoresun.com/kasper.

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