By John Kerr
Three more myths debunked so
you drink better wine for less.
AS THE VOLUME OF THE CONVERSATION rose, the eyes of customers at the surrounding tables began to gaze in the same direction. The exchange between the newly arriving diners and hostess was loud enough to rise above the ambient noise of this busy night: “I thought you allowed customers to bring their own wine.”
The couple had brought a special wine for their anniversary celebration. “Yes, that’s true, but I have to ask you a couple of questions first.”
The chosen place for their celebration was an acclaimed vegan restaurant. The hostess said the restaurant would serve their wine, but she needed assurance that the wine was vegan. The astonished couple had no idea that wine was composed of anything but grapes and could provide no assurance. They enjoyed a wonderful night at the restaurant, but had to serve their special wine at a future occasion. (Go HERE to read Wine Myths Busted (Pt. 1)
Isn’t wine just fermented grapes? And even if they add something, it can’t be animal products, right? But the practice of using animal products in wine making is almost as old as wine making itself. Ancient Romans stumbled onto the fact that pouring egg whites into wine improved its taste. Over time, vintners found that other animal products worked too and expanded the tool kit to include gelatin, casein, shrimp shells, and fish bladders.
Why do vintners use animal products? Nearly every vintage has some unique flaw. The task of every vintner is to work around that flaw to make the best wine possible for that vintage. Some animal products attract chemicals that produce off flavors in wine. The chemicals attach to the product, which turns solid and is then removed. Roughly 60 percent of wine is made this way. This technique is used by many beer makers as well.
Little is perfect in this world, and what improves also takes away. This same technique removes some of wine’s desired flavors as well as reduces the differentiation between vintages. There is a band of vintners who avoid this and other techniques that alter wine’s flavors so that you experience the true taste of each vintage. There are two camps of thought here: Do you want to drink a consistent style of wine every year, or the best wine that can be produced in a given vintage? We each must make our own decision.
Between this and the previous Myth Buster article (November 2016 Capital at Play), I think we’ve exhausted the topic of additives and flavorings in wine. It’s not the most pleasant of topics. But with so many people focused on what goes into food, I wanted to make sure you knew that wine ingredients also cover the gamut of haute cuisine to junk food. Word to the wise: junk food wines can be expensive and haute cuisine wines are often at value prices. But let’s move on to a few of the traditional yet lingering myths in wine.
A corked wine means that a certain bacterium has invaded your bottle, making your wine smell like a cork or wet newspapers. The only way you can tell if a wine is corked is to sniff or taste the wine.
You should check /sniff the cork to see if the wine is good: We’ll all been there. Your waiter at the fancy restaurant places the cork near you for your inspection. Many of us pick up the cork to sniff or inspect it. Many people think that sniffing the cork will tell you if the wine is off or “corked.” But whether a wine is good or bad, the bottle end of the cork always smells the same—like a wet cork. A corked wine means that a certain bacterium has invaded your bottle, making your wine smell like a cork or wet newspapers. The only way you can tell if a wine is corked is to sniff or taste the wine.
An inspection of the cork will tell you if a bottle has been leaking wine. Leaky corks let in air that can ruin your wine. If the cork is leaking, you’ll see a streak of red or dampness along the side of the cork, and possibly dried wine at the top of the cork. But usually this is so obvious that the waiter will have whisked away the bottle before it even reaches your table.
If you’re at home, don’t automatically toss a bottle with a leaky cork. Many survive this, and you don’t want to waste a good bottle.
So where did this tradition of cork inspection come from? It is linked with another age-old tradition: wine fraud. Nefarious folk quickly learned that they could steam off wine labels of less renowned wines and replace them with the labels of expensive ones. The top wineries reduced this fraud by putting their name or logo on the cork. Waiters placed the cork on the table to give customers the opportunity to conduct their own inspection.
Winemakers know we are an impatient bunch, and 95 percent of the wines they make are meant to be enjoyed within a year after their release.
Wines taste better with age: My brother, Rob, a restauranteur in Los Angeles, is always looking for something special for his customers. When an importer offered him a well-aged Barolo at a deep discount, Rob stocked up and offered it to his customers at a great price. But he soon put a disclaimer on the wine list, informing customers they could not send the Barolo back if they did not like it.
The Barolo wasn’t bad. The problem was that many of his customers had never experienced an aged wine. When a wine ages, the tannins soften and the fruit dissipates. An aged wine is a subtle treat for many. But if you’re used to big fruit, distinctive flavors, and the bite of tannins, aged wines may not be for you. They do have an aura about them, but drink what you like and save yourself the expense.
And keep in mind that nearly all wines are not meant to be aged. Winemakers know we are an impatient bunch, and 95 percent of the wines they make are meant to be enjoyed within a year after their release. About four percent can be aged up to five years after the vintage date, and only one percent is made to be aged beyond that.
And that one percent of ageable wines is shrinking. Vintners now make much of the traditionally ageable wines in a style to pour now. They know that restaurants won’t store a wine for 10 years and neither will many of their customers.
There is a downside to aging wine. Quality varies among the bottles as wine ages. Even two bottles stored right next to each other can taste markedly different over time. So keep in mind that the longer you age a wine, the more bottles may not provide the remarkable experience you hoped they would.
Another danger is waiting too long to drink your wine. It’s a bit like the game show, The Price is Right, where the winning answer is the one closest to but does not exceed the item’s actual price. Wine improves with age—to a point. Cross the line and the flavors drop off a cliff. The resulting swill is not even fit for salad dressing. This most often happens when you save a bottle too long for that right occasion or are too ambitious in building your wine cellar.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me they saved a special bottle for the right occasion only to have waited too long. Wine is about friends and family, and making memories. Serving a special wine is all you need to make it a special occasion.
Collectors sometimes buy so much wine they can’t drink it all before it goes bad. If you find yourself approaching this situation, throw a large party and become the most popular person on your block.
is the co-owner of Metro Wines located on Charlotte Street in downtown Asheville.
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