WINE Q & A
... how ... what
... when ... where ... who and why ...
Since most reader questions relate
to Consumerism issues, we have put this page here. Send us your Wine
Questions. As we get them, we'll decide if the request is more
for advice or information and add the
new questions and answers to
the top of the lists ... This page was last updated
July 24, 2011
Q Oops, I Chilled It Again! "We placed a bottle of white wine in the freezer to chill it and forgot about it......once it has defrosted, is it still good to drink?"
- Many Readers
A Freezing does not hurt wine per se; it can be thawed and drunk with little affect on its smell or taste. Frozen wine can expand, however, and move the cork, breaking the seal and allowing oxidation to spoil it in a matter of days.
Warming and re-chilling a wine is not recommended. It tends to shorten the ultimate "life" and hasten spoilage of cork-sealed wines. A single occurence will not cause enough damage to change the taste much, but it is a good idea to drink previously-chilled bottles sooner rather than later. Rapid temperature changes can cause failure of the seal between the bottle and the cork, allowing oxidation and spoilage.
Although see-saw temperature change is not as problematic with screw-cap wine, repeated fluctuations between normal and low temperatures can cause precipitation of potassium bitartrate crystals that look like broken glass (myth), no matter how the wine is packaged. These crystals are completely edible and perfectly harmless; they are merely an annoyance. When these crystals are dried and powdered they become "Cream of Tartar" commonly used in baking.
The best way to chill wine is in a container that is filles 2/3 with ice and 1/3 with water; an immersed room-temperature bottle will reach 40° in 15 minutes. (Ice alone is much slower, since air in between cubes or even crushed ice does not conduct the cold as well.) Only chill as much as you will use at one sitting. Any leftovers should be kept refrigerated and consumed as soon as possible (within a few days).
Storing unopened wine in a food refrigerator is a bad idea. Refrigerators, besides the vibration from the compressor, cycling on-and-off many times daily, remove humidity which can cause cork failure in a relatively short time. Refrigerator temperature is also not as constant as most people imagine. Read about storing wine for longer terms here.
Q Now in reruns:
This Old Wine"I
found some old bottles of (brand xxx) wine from (xxxx vintage)
that I had forgotten in a (basement, cabinet, closet, crawl
space, refrigrator, etc.). Are they drinkable? Are they valuable?
In spite of the bright
red notice on the Question form, a dozen or more eMails
each month request me to assess the monetary and gustatory value of old bottles, assure
their lack of toxicity, and suggest what to do with them (I
am SOOooo tempted!). In spite of the tendency of these requests to transform me into the Incredibly Cranky and Cynical Old Hulk, will try to contain my wrath, control
my deficit of patience, and restrain my excess of contempt here,
but no guarantees ... so pay attention, or I might start throwing things!
#1 - Without
storage conditions, only one in a thousand wines will survive
past five years. This is the truth; no exceptions
— don't ask. If you insist, there are Certified Wine Appraisers
(look in the Wine Spectator classified ads) who will assist
you for a minimum 3-figure fee. I, on the other hand, will advise you on the drinkability of your old bottles for FREE — ONLY if you send me the bottle(s) in question and they taste great. (Otherwise, I may sue you for
the pain and suffering of consuming a mixture of vinegar and mud!)
#2 - I have personally sampled
or consumed many wines
as old as 80 years of both mis-kept and well-kept provenance. No old wine ever made me nauseous,
gave me hives, headaches, provided spiritual enlightenment, or caused
me to change either my philosophy or my underwear.
Most tasted lousy. A few tasted remarkably delicious. If you fear the
experience, you don't deserve to thrill in it.
#3 - Please do your own research: WineSearcher
is a regularly-updated database containing hundreds of thousands
of wine listings from thousands of merchants world-wide. It is both
fast and very user-friendly; if a wine is not listed, it
probably can't be found. Find the value of a bottle or an entire cellar
in the "Free Mode," which limits searches to sponsoring
retailers (over 150); "Professional Mode" requires
an annual fee for full access.
(Future questions in this regard
will be directed here ...)
restaurants decant wines containing sediment?We
were recently served a bottle of 1999 cabernet at a local vineyard's
restaraunt. The wine had a great deal of sediment in it and
when poured only the first few sips of the glass were without
grit. The owner refused to replace the bottle, stating that
this was perfectly acceptable. I've always thought that any
wine with this degree of sediment should be decanted before
serving. Is this not true for restaraunts as well? -Allison
Entirely true; the "local
vineyard" apparently knows more about making wine than about
serving it. They should have prevented the grit from getting
into your glasses by either decanting or filtering the wine
at your table. In the absence of a wine filter, designed for
this purpose, a piece of cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter
Since the wine was relatively
young, the "grit" you refer to was probably crystals of potassium
bi-tartrate. Excess tartaric acid falls out of solution when
the temperature drops; it can happen in any container from tank
to barrel to bottle. Some wineries will purposely chill the
wine to force the crystals to precipitate in the tank before
bottling. Others prefer not to "cold stabilize", since flavors
are removed as well. These crystals can cling to corks or bottle
sides and are a fairly common occurrence when wines are given
minimal cellar treatment; in white wine, they look like broken
glass. Although harmless and fairly tasteless, they can add
a very unpleasant texture to wine.
It does not sound like the bottle
needed replacing, but it certainly required better care and
handling. Apparently the owner needs lessons in the care and
handling of his patrons, as well. I would let the establishment
know that in the future, unless they decant or filter it, you
will refuse to pay for a gritty wine.
Which is drier: Merlot
or Cabernet Sauvignon? What
red wine is drier than these two? -Linda
It really depends upon
the individual wines that you compare ... both types are made
in varying degrees of dryness.
When we speak of wine, the terms
"dry" and "sweet" are opposites and there are many degrees between
these two poles. "Dryness" is determined primarily by the
winemaking methods, NOT by the type of grape (although
a great many people mistakenly think otherwise). Although most
wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot grapes are made
in a dry table wine style, there are also some ultra-sweet dessert
wines that are made from Cabernet Sauvignon and also some made
Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon
share similar "flavor profiles", but also have some differences.
Merlot grape berries are thinner-skinned, so Merlot wine generally
has less tannin, astringency and "pucker" than wine made from
Cabernet Sauvignon, which has thick-skinned berries. You can
read more about each and see photos in our Varietal
Profile section: Cabernet
Although the list is not limited
to these, Barbara, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese,
Syrah and Tempranillo are other red wines that are usually produced
in a dry style. Pinot Noir, Valdiguié and Gamay are red
wines usually made in a dry style, but are typically lighter,
with more fruitiness and less tannin (pucker).
What wine should
I buy to save for 20 years? I
am looking to buy a case of wine from each of my children's
birth years (1997, 1998 and 2000) to save until each turns 21.
I am fairly new to wine. What should I buy? -Joe
I admire your sentiment
and forethought, but the proposition has major risks. Wine does
not keep well in most circumstances. Serious long-term cellaring
requires perfect conditions from the moment the
wine leaves the producer: constant temperature of 55° to
60°F, with only snail-slow fluctuations within this narrow
range; moderate humidity; and virtually no exposure to light
Besides the storage concerns,
do you even know that you like the taste of old wine? Will your
children? No wine carries a guarantee of universal gastro-euphoria.
I have been in the wine business
for over 30 years, tasted hundreds of wines "older" than 10
years past the vintage, including many of great reputation,
vintage acclaim and perfect provenance. Although several were
memorable and profoundly good, the majority turned out to be
"duds" to my taste. Very few wines survive to remain enjoyable
past ten years in the bottle.
If you insist, I suggest some
general categories to look at: the best wine to age from 1997
would probably be a Northern Rhône, Vintage Port, or California
Cabernet Sauvignon; from 1998, choose a Pomerol, St. Emilion,
or Southern Rhône; for 2000, almost any red Bordeaux or
a Vintage Port. You should diligently research each particular
wine candidate you consider, as none of these suggestions are
seriously concerned with the advice of banking on '97 California
cabs to age for 20 years..
Have you tasted any recently? Most of that vintage is precocious
and rapidly evolving.. Even the Araujo Eisele Vineyard tastes
more like a '94 than a '97... Please reconsider that answer...
unless you have a different idea of aging potential than I do.
final comment solves the equation: the First Rule of
wine aging is "Beauty is in the palate of the
bottle holder." In general, I personally
prefer wines that retain youthful (fresh) fruit aromas and that
are structured with moderate tannin levels; for the most part,
this means that I consume all my personally-collected wines
within 10 years of the vintage (exceptions: Portuguese Port
and French Sauternes). The great majority of wines I have tasted
or consumed that are older than a decade were over-the-hill to my taste ... but there have been
of the very nicest old bottles I ever drank was 1958 Louis M.
Martini Cabernet Sauvignon (regular bottling), drank in 1977.
It was quite amazing, still with Cabernet Sauvignon fruit aroma,
complexed by cedar and cigar-box, excellent balance and smooth
tannins. The vintage of 1958 is considered to be above-average,
but not exceptional or age-worthy for California cabernets;
except for the Special Selection (barrels chosen for this designation)
or Private Reserve (bottles aged at the winery for release at
or near maturity) Louis Martini's Cabernets were long considered
to be good, lighter-style, wines for everyday consumption, but
not candidates for serious long-term cellaring.
you're investing in real estate, the three things you need for
success are location, location, and location. If you're
selecting wines for long-term aging, the three things you need
are balance, balance, and balance. Should a slcik sales pitch
convince you to purchase swamp or desert, at worst you can still build to improve the site;
if you fall for and buy wine with massive tannins and alcohol,
you will most likely suffer the fate of bad taste from which
there is simply no
recovery, but you won't even discover this largess for many years.
The Second Rule of wine aging is "There
are NO great wines and NO great vintages, only great bottles." Recently (April, 2005), I opened for my wine classes, 2 bottles
of 1973 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel (donated by the estate of
a local wine collector). I intended these to be examples of why most wines should not be kept too long. One bottle
was surprisingly good-tasting, fairly well-balanced, and slightly
lively, although with no recognizable varietal character or
fruitiness; the other bottle, although basically similar, had
slightly more brownness to the color, had developed substantial
mustiness to the bouquet, and was more flat-tasting. In either case, the great majority of the students preferred the 2003 vintage of the same wine which was also shown for comparison.
1997 California Cabernet Sauvignon specifically, I drank a Pride
Mountain Cabernet (regular bottling) on March 12, 2005. The
wine was aromatic, complex, smooth, and harmonious, with all
of the elements on my list of desirable components
in cabernet. Although this bottle tasted fabulous, perfect,
wonderful, and orgasmic to me right now, my remaining bottle
may easily live another 6-10 years (under optimal cellar conditions).
I have not yet decided when I will consume it, but more likely
it will be sooner than later, which has more to do with personal
winelust than vintage confidence.
child was born in 1997; I stand behind my recommendations, with
the rider that perfect storage conditions are required. (By
the way, my latest experience with California cab from the much-heralded
1995 vintage was like a proverbial trip to the woodshed.)
How do I open and
decant a large-format bottle?In
two days, I will be opening a 1970 Mouton-Rothschild Jeroboam
(4.5-liter). I have never opened up such a large format bottle
before, and my three decanters are all for 750ml bottles.
I've seen mixed reviews of
the '70 Mouton, and I'm not certain how I should handle this
particular bottle. Considering the nature of the wine, and the
size of the bottle, should I just pour directly from the bottle,
or is decanting a necessity? Whether I decant or pour directly,
any idea how long this particular bottle should be opened before
the wine is to be served?
Any Jeroboam cork-removal
You're going to have Great Fun!
from a large bottle is not a good idea - it comes out under
more pressure than you think - enough in just a second to over-fill
a glass and knock it from a good grip. The best way is to siphon
bottle is already STANDING up in a cool place (this will encourage
any sediment to settle out) and near the location where you
will serve it (so that transporting doesn't agitate any loose
sediment). If not, GO stand it up right now, before you finish
reading this note!
about 3-4 feet of surgical tubing, a clamp (from a medical supply
store) and a small diameter wooden or aluminum dowel rod that
is at least an inch longer than the length of the bottle. Use
nylon wire-ties or wire twist-ties to fasten the tubing to the
rod in two or three places, so that the rod projects about two
inches beyond the end of the tubing. You will also need at least
one regular (750 ml capacity) decanter or pitcher.
As far as opening
ahead of time, consider this: if you open and aerate too soon,
too bad; there's no remedy. If you open the wine and find that
it needs some time, nothing is lost and all you need is a little
patience (explanation three paragraphs further). Personally,
however, I believe "breathing" is terribly archaic and over-rated
and that more pleasure is lost than gained by extended aeration
If you are unconvinced and remain more comfortable with a "breathing"
window, start the process a couple of hours before your guests
Big bottle corks
may have a larger diameter than normal, but they are usually
normal length. Be careful to get a firm grip in the cork with
the corkscrew (make sure to use a corkscrew with an open helix
worm - reference)
and start pulling very gently, making sure the cork is moving,
sliding free from the glass instead of bulging next to the corkscrew
insertion point. Once the cork is moving, you should have no
Insert the extra-dowel
end of the tubing into the bottle until it reaches bottom. Use
masking tape to secure the rod to the neck, so that you don't
end up stirring any sediment as you're dispensing (and to keep
a wooden rod from floating). Attach the clamp on the free end
of the tubing. Hold the clamp open and then (Here's the FUN
Part) start siphoning!
To Control "Breathing":
fill One Glass about half way and let the clamp keep your siphon
ready. Try the wine. Smell. Taste. Does it seem "closed in"?
Wait five minutes. Try again. Repeat until the wine in the glass
seems ready. The siphon-decanted wine will have more aeration,
from splashing, than the portion remaining in the bottle. If
the wine seems flavorful, leave everything at the ready until
just before serving.
Siphon into pitchers
or decanters and then pour from these into your guests glasses.
If it takes an hour (or however long) for the experimental glass
to come around, fill your pitchers or decanters about an hour
(or however long you determine) before you want to serve your
When you get
down to the last two inches, you can decide whether to pour-decant
it, filter it (a coffee filter works ok), or just pour it straight,
mud and all! Continue as required until consumed!
Q How can I
sell my entire wine collection?
I am interested in selling a very fine collection of Charles
Krug reserve wine that my father in law has kept cellared for
years. It is in excellent condition. Can you suggest how I might
go about selling the lot? -Mike
Looks like a great collection.
Your first step will be to research current prices. Use Wine
Searcher, for one, to see what
some of your bottles might fetch. To begin with, try some general
searches, "1960-Cabernet Sauvignon", "Charles Krug-Vintage Select",
etc., rather than getting too specific.
You are also going to need to
document, as much as possible, the conditions under which the
wines have been stored, the ullage (level of fill; e.g., high
neck, mid-shoulder, etc.) and label condition (e.g., perfect,
torn, moldy, etc.) for each bottle. You might also note levels
and types of sediment (e.g., none, light silty, moderate crusty,
etc.). Just add the fields, "Fill", "Label" and "Sediment",
to your Excel file. The more of this type of info you have BEFORE
you submit the collection for bid, the higher your credibility
with potential bidders and the greater you surely will profit.
When you are ready, take, fax
or e-mail your list to Marin
Wine Cellar, since you seem
to be in the Bay Area. Also, try submitting it to a couple of
commercial resellers of old wines (look in the classified section
of most any issue of Wine Spectator). Your best bet, however,
to get top dollar, will be to find a private collector. They
will be more willing to pay you close to retail prices.
You could also try selling the
collection yourself on eBay, especially if you have any experience
with eBay and know how they work. Be specific and firm that
you wish to sell ALL as a collection.
I thought I wrote
down the right info, but...
Recently, at a wine party, I tasted the most excellent bottle
of red wine I have ever had. I wrote down what I thought to
be the type of wine on the label--rio sordo. I must have
been mistaken, because I cannot find such a wine anywhere. Can
you help? -David
Unfortunately for the consumer,
reading wine labels is something of an art. There are so many
different pieces of information that may appear, especially
on imported wines, that you need ALL of it to track them down.
If you chance to taste a good one, try to save the bottle or use a cell phone to take a photo of both the front and back labels.
The wine you seek is probably
Rio Sordo Barbaresco, made from Nebbiolo. It is full-flavored,
very dry and fairly astringent. Try using these (Capitalized)
terms to search on WineSearcher or Google.com
... You may find other wines you also enjoy based on
the Nebbiolo grape.
Q Can you help
me find out about a Hungarian "Champagne"?
a bottle of Hungarian Champagne from Budapest. It is 1915 L.
Littke Cuvee. I have searched and searched, but can find nothing
out about it. Any help would be appreciated. -Diane
Your bottle comes from the city of Pécs. The champagne
factory was started in 1859 by Lorinc Littke and is now owned
by a Swedish company, Pannonia Cezar Ltd. Two-thirds of the
current production is sold locally and the remainder in Sweden.
The facility is a tourist attraction, with a 5-story underground
labyrinth of caves and cellars.
It probably has
value as a collectible curiosity, but, even if it had spent
all these years sitting in the cold, dark and pressurized conditions
of the ocean bottom, the time for your bottle being enjoyable
to drink is likely many decades past.
What South American
white wine is made by a Seagram's daughter?
I am looking for the name of a particular wine. It is South
American and it is white. It also happens to be from the winery
of one of the daughters of the Crown Royal Whisky (Seagrams)
empire/family. Can you help identify this wine or tell me who
You are probably looking
for a wine under the "Etchart" label from Argentina. Their sub-brands
include "Rio de Plata" and "Cafayate". White varietals they
make include the familiar Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and also
a grape indigenous to Argentina, called Torrontes. I don't know
of and was not able to locate the "daughter connection", but
this is the only South American winery listed in the Seagram's