Letters . . . we get letters. Here are some answers.
by Thor Iverson
"Uncorked" is an interactive column. Yes, we tend to spout off
about whatever's on our minds. But we also get a lot of feedback from you, our
readers, and we try to work these comments, concerns, and questions into our columns (drop us a
line at email@example.com to join in). This week, it's time
for you to take over.
So what's on your minds? Well, to judge by the mail I get, a lot of you are
worried about storage conditions, and whether yours are too hot, too dry, or
otherwise unsuitable. We've helped exacerbate that angst with recitations of
the party line on ideal storage: 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, high humidity,
dark, no vibrations. And although there's always some controversy about these
standards, the fact remains that wine stored under these conditions lasts
longer (and ages better).
But it's important to keep in mind that these standards are for
With bottles that are going to be consumed within
the next few days,
weeks, or even months, it's rarely necessary to be so
exacting. Certainly, temperatures that never get above
70 degrees Fahrenheit
are still desirable, but as long as there's no leakage, most wines earmarked
for early drinking can take a small amount of abuse. (Leakage is caused by
heat: it happens when the wine expands up to, and then past, the cork, which
often allows oxygen in as the wine cools and contracts.) And big, sturdy wines
like red zinfandel
or Aussie shiraz are pretty hard to damage except by extended cooking.
For those few bottles that do need
prolonged aging to taste their best, or for
those that are particularly delicate, it's always worth looking into a portable
storage unit. Some local wine shops carry them, and when they don't they can
point you to a catalogue or a Web site (like
http://www.iwawine.com) where you
can locate them. But that topic's worth an entire column in itself.
To the many of you who read the article on
Boston's best restaurant wine lists,
and asked if we're going to do a similar article on stores: yes, we are.
Another common question has to do with "found" wine -- bottles rescued from
Grandma's attic or from a long-ignored storage closet. "Is it any good? Is it
worth anything?" you usually ask. And the answer, 99 times out of 100, is no.
The storage was probably not good enough, and these wines are almost invariably
the kind of inexpensive, buy-now-drink-tonight stuff that doesn't improve with
Open them if you want -- they're not toxic, just over the hill -- but have
something else on hand that you can actually drink. Of course, there's
always that one-in-a-hundred bottle that's actually drinkable and worth
something, and in that case we expect you to invite us over.
Many of you are overcome with anxiety over the issue of decanting a wine, or
"letting it breathe." Obviously, when there's sediment at the bottom of a
bottle, carefully decanting it into another container is standard practice. But
what about young wines, or wines with no sediment?
Well, it's a fact that many wines respond well to some exposure to air, and
that they open and fill out as they breathe. And some wines don't, quickly
reverting to pure structure
alcohol, etc.) or just falling
apart. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no ironclad rule about when to open a
bottle of wine to let it breathe. That's why the only way to handle it is to be
If you think a wine might need some air, open it a day or two before you're
ready to drink it. Quickly pour a small sip, and then recork the rest. Taste
it. Is it full and rich, or does there seem to be a lot less to the wine than
you expected? If the former, leave it corked until just before you serve it. If
the latter, simply leaving it uncorked isn't going to do much; there's not
enough surface area in that dime-size neck for much air to reach the wine. So
pour it out -- slowly -- into a decanter, pitcher, or other container.
Then, from time to time, go back to that container and see how it's doing. When
you start to detect that the wine is coming out of its shell, pour it back into
the bottle and recork it. If it's getting close to serving time, and the wine
still isn't budging, try "double-decanting" by pouring it back and forth
between multiple containers. This sort of ultra-fast oxygenation is a little
hard on the wine, but it can help in extreme cases.
We'll answer more questions in a later column, but here are a few answers to
the most common question: taste any good wines lately?
Etchart 1999 Torrontés Cafayate ($9).The torrontés grape
has something in common with muscat, in that it can be outrageously floral.
This wonderfully unique Argentinean white is no exception; it offers a
high-acid, fruity, and
quite flowery expression of all that we'll miss when
Serve it chilled.
Mumm Champagne Extra Dry "Carte Classique" ($42). It's unfortunate that
Champagne is so
because there really is no challenger to its
exquisite purity of flavor. This is a particularly good, if austere, version
with delicate red-apple nuances. It's not a party wine, but it's perfect for a
private anniversary celebration.
Sterling "Vintner's Collection" 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast
($13). Sterling has been a perennial underachiever, turning out one sterile
wine after. But things are finally turning around, and this bargain-priced
cabernet is a good harbinger of things to come. With classic blackberry and
tobacco flavors, this wine is not complex, but is exactly the sort of
fruity, enjoyable wine a lot of California vintners should be producing, but
Fritz Winery 1997 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley "Old Vine" ($21.99). A
basket of dark fruit (plum, crabapple, prune, blackberry) with a gritty
chocolate feel and fireworks on the finish. As delicious as this wine is right
now, ripe tannins and a great
balance indicate a promising future. Drink with
grilled steak, of course.
Thor Iverson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Uncorked archive