Tag Archives: oxidized wine

Beware wine vintage skulduggery!

wine vintageThe Wine Curmudgeon, ever vigilant in the cause of price, value, and quality, must sound a skulduggery alert about wine vintages. How serious is this? The headline to this post has an exclamation point, which I use only on the rarest occasions.

But this wine vintages alert deserves an exclamation point. Too many retailers, and especially grocery stores, have shelves stocked with cleverly named and cutely labeled wine, costing as much as $20, that are four, five, and even six years old. These wines were not made to age; even if they were, they haven’t been stored in ideal cellar conditions, but in warehouses and back rooms with minimal, if any air conditioning. And they’ve been driven around on trucks between these warehouses and back rooms, passed from distributor to retailer to distributor to retailer, in less than ideal cellar conditions, too.

It’s worth repeating – almost all of the wine made in the world today is not made to age, and almost everything we buy will go off in two or three years, whether it has oxidized, turned to vinegar, or has had something else ruin it. This is chemistry, and will happen no matter what the sales person says with his or her reassuring smile. (Not that I’ve ever had that happen to me.)

The rule of thumb: Don’t buy a rose older than a year old, a white older than two, and a red older than three. Check the winery’s website to see what the current vintage is, and if what you see on the shelf isn’t that close to the current vintage, you’re risking buying spoiled wine. Yes, there may be a tremendous discount, but all that means is that you spent less on something that you don’t want to drink.

That these older wines are still being sold speaks to retailer cynicism and to the vague idea consumers have that older wine is always better, and that too many retailers believe that what consumers don’t know won’t hurt them.

Cartoon courtesy of WholeCellar.com, using a Creative Commons license

The new truth about oxidized wine

oxidized wineWine will oxidize — that is, become brandyish and taste funny — within 24 hours after you open the bottle. Oxygen gets into the bottle, and the same thing happens to the wine that happens to a cut apple. This has been true for decades, and the wine preserver industry, including Coravin, nitrogen systems, and vacuum pumps, has become a multi-million dollar business because of oxidized wine.

But what if post-modern winemaking technology has made oxidation less likely? What if the wine business has discovered how to keep wine from oxidizing with 24 hours, so that it will last days or even a week? In fact, this seems to have happened, and especially with bottles from Big Wine. That has been my experience over the past 18 months — bottles, red and white, left on the counter for several days and closed only with their cork or screwcap, tasted just as fresh as they did when I opened the bottle.

So I checked with a well-known and award-winning California winemaker, and he said I was right. He asked not to be named for this post, given that he was letting us behind, as he called it, the wizard’s curtain. “The science of wine has advanced immeasurably in the last 20 years,” he told me. “And, in part, that is why a $6 bottle of wine does not taste like crap anymore.”

There is lots of science in his explanation (“build stronger chains of anthocyanins and phenolic compounds”); more than we need here. But wine is oxidizing less quickly because:

? Grapes are riper than ever when they’re harvested. This has led to more stable phenolics, which is the compound in grapes that adds color, taste, and helps preserve it.

? Adding more tannins to the wine, either oak, grape-derived, or from other exotic hardwoods. I actually have a bottle of liquid tannins in a desk drawer that I got at a trade show. If your wine isn’t tannic enough, you can dump it in.

? These added tannins, combined with a technique called micro-oxidation, which adds oxygen to the wine at certain times during the winemaking process. This means, said the winemaker, better wines with improved color, richer flavors, and better shelf life. “This is a novel idea,” he said with a laugh, “since the industry has for so many years maligned oxygen and taught the exact opposite. But oxygen is good.”

Is this true with all wines? Probably not. But for the majority of wine that most of us drink, oxidized wine is apparently one less thing to worry about.