Wine 101

Any tips on storing wine?

Wines are best stored in a cool, dark place in your house. Preferably, the space will have a stable temperature year-round, and not be actively disturbed. Fluctuations in temperature can cause the wine to “breathe” in the bottle, pulling in air from outside the bottle.

Wine is best stored with bottles on their side, to ensure the corks do not dry out. Dry corks can lead to oxidation and spoilage. If the wine is sealed with a rubber cork or screw cap, they can normally be stored upright.

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How long is it before a wine goes bad or “turns”?

When a wine goes bad (“turns”), it is due to several possible factors. Possible reasons include oxidation, bacterial spoilage, or simple age. There may be noticeable off-aromas or flavors (or both). The wine may begin to re-ferment, and may be completely undrinkable.

As a wine ages in its bottle, minute amounts of air seep into the bottle through the cork. Rubber corks and metal screw caps can prevent this, but can create other possible problems of their own.

If a wine bottle is stored on its side, the cork will not dry out, and this can prevent spoilage. Wine bottles that are stored upright will tend to see their corks dry out, and that can lead to oxidation.

Storing wine in a cool, dark place, with a relatively stable temperature and humidity throughout the year, can prevent fluctuations in the air pressure in the bottle, which also can prevent spoilage issues.

Generally speaking, most red wines peak in quality at around 8-10 years of bottling, and then begin to slowly diminish. Most white wines don’t improve much once bottled, and will generally keep for 6-8 years before losing their luster.

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What is the difference between wooden bottle corks, rubber corks, and screw-tops?

Wine is packaged in many different containers. Bottles of all sizes, cartons, boxes… the list goes on. In some European countries, people can bring sealing, food-grade plastic bags to the winery and have them filled on the spot.

When it comes to traditional bottling methods, most consumers purchase wine in 750mL glass bottles. These are most often sealed using wooden bottle corks. In recent years, attention has been brought to the fact that cork trees take a long time to grow. Additionally, cork can contain bacterial spoilers that will taint the wine and ruin the entire bottle. Recycled cork is one option: Old corks are ground down, chemically treated, and pressed back into the shape of a cork for re-use. These are guaranteed to be spoilage-free.

Regardless, with increasing worldwide demand for wine, there’s simply not enough cork (and recycled cork) to go around. Some winemakers have taken to alternate bottling methods, in part for sustainability efforts.

Alternatives to wooden cork include rubber corks. These are made of food-grade rubbery plastic, and used exactly the same as a wooden cork. One down-side to these is aesthetics.

Other options include metal screw caps. These require no corkscrew and are literally unscrewed to open the bottle. They can be resealed by hand, and are generally air tight, so unsealed bottles may last quite a bit longer Additionally, some Oregon wineries like Torii Mor are actively researching the use of screw caps on a small portion of all of their wines, to directly compare how the various wines age and survive the years, versus wooden bottle corks.

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Should I purchase wine from a store, or go direct to the winery?

This is entirely up to you. Purchasing wine from a store is like buying milk or bread. Purchasing wine direct from the winery is an experience.

By visiting a winery, you will learn so much about the wine and the people that produce it, that you stand to gain new appreciation for the wine. You may also learn of other wines they produced that you might like and which you would not know about if you went to the store. Also, you may learn of case discounts and upcoming events happening at the winery.

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How much does a good wine cost?

The price of a good wine varies as much as any other product, and is based on a multitude of factors. The varietal and its relative cost to cultivate; The amount of grapes yielded in a particular vineyard’s harvest; The amount of time and artisan expertise required to ferment and produce the wine; The materials used throughout the production, particularly in barrelling and further ageing processes; The materials and production supplies used to bottle; And marketing, post-production sales, distribution overhead, and all the other things it takes to get that bottle into your hands. So many things determine how much a good wine is going to cost you.

With so many options available, both in terms of varietals and wineries producing that particular wine, and so many styles and production sizes, a given wine can range anywhere from $15 to eight times that, or even more.

This question is hard to answer, in part because individual taste and budget are big factors in determining what you may want to spend on a wine, how you might gauge the quality of wine in comparison to the cost, and the ultimate question: Would you purchase it again?

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What is meant by a wine’s “depth of color”?

When tasting a wine, think of “depth of color” as “saturation of color”. Simply put, a wine with a greater depth contains greater concentrations of color and substance, and allows less light to pass through it.

As a result, wines of great depth appear darker, richer in color.

Wines with less depth may appear watery or almost transparent. Depths vary greatly depending on the varietal used to produce the wine, as well as how the wine was fermented and aged.

Depth of color, when used as a measure of quality, typically applies to red wines, as they naturally contain more coloring, tannins, oak, and other components that can alter the wine’s depth.

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What is meant by wine’s viscosity? What factors can affect it?

Wine viscosity refers to its liquid consistency. Wine viscosity will may make it appear thin and watery, or may make it appear thick and syrupy.

Viscosity is affected by the levels of glycerols (sugars) and alcohol found in the wine. Generally speaking, the higher a wine’s levels of glycerols and alcohol, the higher the wine’s viscosity will be.

Wines with high viscosity tend to cling to the side of a wine glass longer, and may leave “tears” or “legs” as bits of the wine begin to drip back down into the glass.

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What are some differences between a young wine and an aged wine?

A young wine is one that was recently bottled, while an aged wine may have set in its bottle for years.

Depending on the varietal, vintner, and growing conditions for the grapes fermented, a wine may be drinkable when still young, or may require additional aging prior to opening.

Young wines usually show their full aromas and flavors immediately after opening. After prolonged exposure to the air, young wines may “fizzle out”, lose their flavors, become flat and sour.

On the other hand, an aged wine may require ten or fifteen minutes of decanting to properly “breathe” and expose its hidden layers of flavors and aromas. Additional air-time will not adversely affect the wine.

Chemistry helps explain why aging a wine may enhance or inhibit its qualities. The process of bottle aging allows a wine to sit in a stationary position for a long period of time, its chemicals slowly mixing with minimal amounts of oxygen that manage to pass through the cork. For this reason, bottles sealed with Stelvin caps or rubber corks may not age in the same way as a bottle aged with a traditional wooden cork.

For red wines, bottle aging can allow some volatile compounds to lose their punch, and produce a subtler, complex set of flavors in the wine. These compounds – tannins, phenols, glycerols, and sugars, present in higher concentrations in red wine, may benefit from moderate to long-term aging.

By the same token, aging a white wine will likely not benefit its qualities at all. Its lighter concentration of chemicals could be overpowered by lengthy aging, resulting in a flat, dull wine when opened.

Regardless of varietal, all wines have a cut-off point, after which time additional aging will not benefit their qualities. The cut-off can be determined from vintage to vintage, winery to winery, and, if you are collecting wines in a cellar, is something to carefully track.

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How does a wine barrel toast affect the aromas in a wine?

Prior to storing wine, oak barrels are toasted – their insides lit on fire, to as to produce a moderate layer of charcoal – which helps draw out qualities of the oak, seal the wood, and provide a neutral butter between the wine and “raw” wood in the rest of the barrel.

Based on how long a barrel is toasted, different qualities will show through in the aging wines it holds.

A wine barrel toast of 10 to 15 minutes will add spice to a wine.

A wine barrel toast of 15 to 30 minutes will expose sweeter, sugary aromas from the wood, such as butter and vanilla.

A wine barrel toast of 30 to 45 minutes will show darker, earthier aromas such as smoke, tobacco, and coffee.

Depending on a winemaker’s desired results, barrels of different toasts will be used to age specific wines.

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