By Larry Teren
If you are a baby boomer and someone mentions “riddler”, you most immediately think of the great comic and impressionist Frank Gorshin. In the 1960s’ Frank brought the arch-villain The Riddler to life in a couple of episodes of the campy Batman series starring Adam West. He was so good at his craft that he was nominated for an Emmy on his first appearance. Still, the producers could not figure a way to bring him back the second year for an additional episode. He finally made another appearance in the final, less artistic year of the show’s run.
However, I bet you dollars to donuts that most of you will not know that the term ‘riddler’ has a meaning that goes beyond one who is apt to talk in riddles as did the Batman fiend. Those who make wine or more specifically champagne very well know that to be a riddler is to every day do a specific chore that takes just moments.
A wine bottle is kept presumably in a rack until it is ready to be imbibed. The bottle sits in an angle secured a few degrees up from horizontal level. It is the duty of the riddler to riddle or rotate the bottle every day an inch or two at the most. This action plus the fact that the riddler is also slightly raising the bottle’s resting angle causes the sediment and yeast to concentrate as close as possible to the bottle’s mouth rather than at the bottom. This procedure lasts several days until the last phase when the bottle of champagne is put into a subzero solution for several minutes. This action creates an ice block of yeast and sediment that is removed from the bottle just prior to cork being placed into it.
At a commercial winery a professional riddler will need to do this to thousands of bottles a day. That’s a lot of work for a rotating cuff and the guy (or gal) isn’t even being paid like a major league pitcher. I can imagine a winery owner with a wry sense of humor playing Pete Seeger’s famous melody (words from Ecclesiastes), “To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn)”.
As for Frank, he was so respected by his peers that the incomparable Rich Little declined to do imitations of celebrities (such as Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster) that were done by Gorshin. When asked he was alleged to say, “why ruin a perfect thing?” Indeed when Frank did the two mentioned above as well as Al Jolson you believed he became them.
Ironically, Frank Gorshin appeared on the Dean Martin in the mid 1960’s during the height of his Riddler popularity. In the following nearly 8 minute clip (courtesy of youtube.com) you can see Frank do his superb imitations. The second half of the clip, however, has Frank doing a very bizarre Riddler song and dance act. Well, everyone is entitled to one bad turn. Enjoy!