Ever Wonder Wine?
Wine Conundrums Answered
Wine Conundrums Answered
Over the years of writing my L’chaim column about kosher wines and distilled spirits, I’ve gotten a fair amount of correspondence from readers asking specific questions of one sort or another. So I thought—just to shake things up a bit—folks might find some of this correspondence interesting here.
Q: What is the difference between red and white wine glasses? Do I really need to buy both?
A: To start with your second question first: no, nobody needs to buy wine glasses of any sort to enjoy wine. The only really essential step is figuring out a surefire method of getting the wine to your mouth. Drinking directly from the bottle, for example, works perfectly fine, though it is considered gauche, and so tends to dampen the enthusiasm of one’s dinner companions. Hence the near universal use of stemware.
As for the stemware itself, the biggest difference between red and white wine glasses is marketing. Now it is certainly correct to maintain that the shape and size of a wine glass directly affect one’s sensory perception of a wine’s aroma and flavor. To a very large extent, however, the differences are intimately linked to one’s personal sensory perceptions and subjective aesthetic judgments. In the same way that some films are aesthetically more enjoyable when viewed on a big screen in a darkened theater as opposed to watching it on one’s phone or on an airplane, some wines simply seem to taste better when consumed with this glass over that glass.
Generally, all wine tastes better when consumed with good food and good company, and this is rarely diminished by one’s choice in stemware. If your pleasure is enhanced by one glass or another, then that glass is the best choice for you. And when buying wine glasses, do be sure to only buy what one can afford to break.
Q: I put a bottle of wine in the freezer to chill it, but then forgot it was there—once defrosted, is it safe to drink?
A: Yes, it should be fine. Wines, like many other drinks, like fruit juices or milk, are reasonably tolerant to freezing. Some wines might not bounce back as vigorously as others, but the change is likely to be fairly subtle. There is a good chance the wine would no longer benefit from cellaring, since dramatic temperature fluctuations can take their toll on a given wine’s shelf-life. A more worrisome consideration would be the wine’s closure. Being mostly water, frozen wine can expand, which could cause the cork to move. This would likely break the seal, potentially allowing oxidation to spoil your wine. So once thawed, I’d drink it sooner rather than later.
As an aside, freezing a wine can sometimes cause a visible change in the wine in the form of potassium bitartrate crystals that can sometimes resemble little shards of glass. Tartaric acid occurs naturally in wine, and when sufficiently chilled (generally below 40°) the acid can combine with potassium—also natural in wine—to precipitate out of solution. They may drop to the bottom of the bottle, or sometimes appear there as a powdery white substance. The crystals can also stick to the bottom of the cork. Regardless of how these crystals look, they are entirely harmless and can be consumed without fear.
In the future, by the way, rather than putting a bottle of wine in the freezer, the best way to rapidly chill wine is in a bucket filled 2/3 with ice and 1/3 with water. It should only take 6 to 8 minutes to bring a wine from room-temperature to 50-55°. Incidentally, ice alone in that bucket would be much slower in lowering the bottles temperature, since air in between cubes or even crushed ice does not conduct the cold as well as water.
Q: What should I be able tell about a wine from smelling its cork?
A: Not much at all. It’s like trying to determine how a car will handle on the road solely by observing the condition of its tires. The ritual of waiters placing a freshly pulled cork in front of their patrons harkens back to the days of rampant wine fraud. To prevent restaurants serving up fakes, uncorked out of sight and brought to the table already open, wine producers began branding branding their corks. So restaurants adopted the practice of opening the bottles in front of the patrons at the table, brandishing the cork to display the wine’s authenticity and their integrity.
Give the cork an approving glance, but little more. Absolutely no need to sniff it. Even if it looked moldy and had an off aroma, the wine may be perfectly fine. One can’t even rely on the cork to tell if a wine is corked – that is, infected with a contaminant called TCA, which smells like moldy cardboard. The presence of TCA, like most other wine faults, can only be determined by smelling or tasting the wine itself, not the cork.
Q: What’s good this week?
A: Try the Shirah, Luna Matta Aglianico (Paso Robles, CA), 2014 ($65; shirahwine.com): Aglianico is a southern Italian grape varietal presented here in a Paso Robles, CA guise offers terrific complexity, with lovely dried red fruit, licorice, black plum, strawberry, leather and exotic spice flavors, in a big, full frame and a poised lengthy finish. Even better than the stellar previous vintage. Delightful, multifaceted, and thoroughly engaging. L’Chaim!