One of my favorite things about writing this column is the questions readers ask. Some I can answer immediately but others, I must confess, I need to research and sometimes even do a little experimenting. These are some of your recent questions to Uncorked.
I left a bottle of wine in the freezer overnight. Is it still good to drink?
It is best to not put wine in the freezer. If you need to chill a wine quickly, placing the bottle in a bucket of ice, water and a little salt for 30 minutes will get the job done. But, if you left the bottle in the freezer overnight, chances are you opened your freezer to a sticky mess. Wine is mostly water and will begin to freeze at 32 degrees, but the alcohol will prevent it from freezing entirely. What usually happens is wine freezes just enough to push the cork out and cause the wine to leak. Is the bottle drinkable? After thawing there will be some changes in the taste and it will not be the wine the winemaker intended. But that would not cause the wine to be undrinkable.
What’s the best way to clean mold off a wine’s cork?
The general culprit for mold is humidity during storage. Wine cellars need to be humid, thus mold will sometimes appear. (Most experts recommend keeping cellars at 70 percent to 75 percent humidity.) Because corks are porous you generally will not be able to destroy all mold. But to clean off what you can, start with a small brush (I use a soft bristle toothbrush) or a soft clean cloth. Rub the area, adding a minuscule amount of filtered water if you need too. A more aggressive cleaning method is using vinegar and hot water. Avoid chlorine or bleach because chlorine can lead to “cork taint,” a fault that gives wine a musty aroma. Remember, the wine inside is not damaged, it’s just a cosmetic aspect of the bottle.
What is a barrique?
A barrique is a wine barrel. You generally see the term when referring to a certain shape and size of barrel. It’s the most common type used in Bordeaux, and traditionally holds 59 gallons. Barrel size is important because of the impact it has on the finished wine. If a winemaker is seeking less oak influence, he would use a larger barrel, traditionally one that holds 79 gallons. Want the oak influence to be more noticeable? Use a smaller barrel, like a barrique.
What does it mean when someone describes a wine as cloudy?
Cloudiness usually indicates the growth of yeast or bacteria in the wine. It is generally considered a fault due to poor winemaking. The wine will not be harmful to drink but will most likely taste unpleasant. Some older wines are described as cloudy, but for different reasons. Some wines are bottled unfiltered, per the winemaker’s preference. This is done without removing the tiny grape particles they believe enhance a wine’s flavor. This type of cloudiness is not necessarily considered a flaw and generally will not change the taste of the wine.
After Uncorked’s 10th anniversary column, I received lots of feedback. Many of you asked what were the most frequent questions from readers.
Here are some of the most often asked questions. I’ll address more common questions in future columns.
What does it mean to leave wine “to breathe”?
To be clear, this process is simply removing the cork before serving. “To breathe” is not the same as decanting, which helps remove sediment, or aerating, which introduces oxygen to the wine, both of which can positively affect a wine. Letting a wine breathe by simply removing a cork and leaving the bottle on the table for an hour or two doesn’t improve, change and really affect your wine in any way. The surface to air contact is minuscule and doesn’t allow much “breathing” for your wine.
Why do certain wines increase in value after buying?
Sadly, another misunderstood concept with wine is it will all improve with age and become more expensive. A very small percentage of wines in the world is intended to age or improve with time. Most are “fine wines” where the wineries strategically intend the wine to “age” from bud break to bottling. With these wines, there is usually a very limited amount produced each year. As consumers buy and consume, it’s a general economics rule of supply and demand. Supply is hard to find and demand seeks it out.
Are sulfites in wine bad? And are sulfites to blame for my headache?
Sulfites are naturally present in many things we consume (a byproduct of fermentation) but are also added in production. Sulfites are added to almost all wines in order to protect against oxidation and bacteria spoilage. The common misconception is they are only in U.S. wines.
Most wines, regardless of where they are made, will contain sulfites. But the amount of added sulfites allowed and how they are labeled varies depending on the local governing requirements. The main exceptions are certified organic wines, which cannot contain added sulfites. As far as headaches, new research suggests it isn’t the sulfites in that heavy red Bordeaux causing your headache, but the tannin that is the culprit.
How long will a wine last once I open the bottle?
The short answer: not very long. Think of an open bottle of wine as you would a cut apple. If you cut an apple and leave it on a plate uncovered, it will turn brown. Sometimes quickly, other times it takes longer. This browning is the result of oxidation. Oxidation is wine’s worst enemy.
As soon as the cork is pulled the battle begins. There are ways to slow the process but unless you are using expensive, high-tech gadgets, time is your enemy. As I always say, I am not the wine police, but I can detect when a wine has been opened for a couple of days and quickly determine if it has lost its freshness. Using inexpensive suction devices or putting it in the refrigerator will help, but it is best to drink or use the wine as soon after opening as possible. As you can imagine, there are very few leftover wines in my home.