Between the Clorox and the Kitty Litter

While your corner store is not the ideal place to pick up a bottle of wine, sometimes the need strikes at an inopportune moment. The wine store is not always open when you need it to be, but the packy is there, round the clock. You may not find the ideal bottle, but you can certainly find a drinkable bottle. Here are some tips.

Go for the horizontal. Unless it’s sealed with one of those synthetic corks or the increasingly popular screw cap (called a Stelvin closure), the bottle should not be standing. Real cork needs to stay in contact with the wine in the bottle in order to keep from drying out. Try to buy wines that are in bottles lying flat, and hope they’ve been that way since they arrived at the store.

Go for what’s cool. If wines aren’t stored in a cool, dark place (60°F or so), they age more quickly, if not spoil altogether. If the local shop is 72°F all year, pay close attention to the vintage printed on the label, and buy the youngest. At least then you’ll know you’ve got one of the more recent arrivals.

Go ahead and punt. This one is less reliable, but it’s worth a shot: Check the punt. Come again? Pick up the bottle and turn it over. If there’s an indentation, or punt, in the bottom (the name is derived from the wooden stick, or pontil, once used to hold the bottom of a bottle while a glassblower blew the neck), you’re probably in good shape. Sometimes, though not always, the deeper the punt, the more expensive the production of the bottle and, by extension, the better its contents. (Reislings are the exception; they always have a nearly flat bottom.)

Look for these names. Finally, when in doubt, consult this list, courtesy of Joshua Wesson, founder of Best Cellars wine stores. Not only will these bottles not offend, but they’ll go with just about anything.