|This article originally appeared in
|Tough questions? A wine FAQ
|By Eric J. Lyman
|The first question mailed to me at Pane al Vino wasn't difficult to
answer. "Is this working now?" the system administrator wrote me last
year. Yes, it works, and it's brought several tougher-to-answer and far
more interesting questions since then.
The result? Pane al Vino's first column based on questions from readers.
The fine print: I've combined some questions that touch on similar
topics, and edited a couple for brevity or to make them more universal.
If you wrote with a question that wasn't answered here, it may still be
addressed in a future column.
That said, let's get started:
Is it true that all wine gets better with age?
No, this is not true: almost all wine is meant to be opened right after
being purchased. I can recall a handful of heartrending evenings
featuring a thoughtful dinner host showing off a prized old bottle that
should have been consumed ten years earlier, as the host proudly
announcing he's been holding onto it for 12 years.
Some wines are designed to age gracefully, it's true, and those bottles
usually feature a price tag that reflects that. But if you're unsure, sooner is almost always better than later.
What is the best way to store wine? And what can I do to maintain a partially empty bottle?
If you'll be drinking a wine soon after buying it, almost any place --as long as it's not in direct sunlight or next to the boiler -- is
fine. More time than that, look for a cool and dark corner of the house, like the bottom of a closet or under the bed.
Once a wine is opened, the equation becomes more complicated, because it's contact with the air that can makes a wine taste
sour. There are a variety of pumps and gasses used to extract the air from a partially emptied bottle and they work fairly well with
bottles that are mostly full. But lately I've started using the simplest trick of all: if I know I won't finish a bottle I immediately pour
half in an empty half bottle and put a cork in with as little air inside as possible, then I drink from the large half-empty bottle and
save the small bottle for another day.
I've seen wines for sale for 100 or 200 euro or more, but I've never tasted one. What makes them so much better than
Price is as much the result of scarcity as of quality, which is a way of saying that 100-euro bottle isn't necessarily superior to the
one next to it selling for 40, which may itself be inferior to a wine costing 15. But most truly great wines do cost a lot, simply
because of the cost that goes into making them: the grapes must be carefully tended, the fermentation closely monitored and
controlled, and they are often aged for long periods in expensive oak barrels.
Unless there is some unusual price anomaly, is a 100-euro wine likely to be better than a bottle that costs 25? Yes, but it's
unlikely to be four times better. There are incremental increases in quality, and higher-priced bottles are destined for those with
deep pockets and (hopefully) an appreciation for a slightly more refined wine. But I've always believed that a little knowledge can
help zero in on undervalued wines -- andI hope Pane al Vino reflects that.
Do the shape, color, and size of a bottle have anything to do with the quality of the wine?
Not much. Darker colored glass filters out more light before it reaches the wine, and various shapes are easier to store or
handle. Some shapes are traditional in certain regions -- wines from the Piedmont have sloping shoulders, for example, while
most southern Italian wines have high shoulders -- but none of that is a direct reflection of quality.
Size is sometimes a different story. All things being equal, the same wine in a larger bottle ages slower and more gracefully
than its smaller cousin. I also think bigger bottles are a lot more fun to open at a dinner party!
How do I get invited to one of the wine tastings you've mentioned in the column?
If you live in Rome -- you never know. But it may be more fun to host your own blind tasting. Cover the wine labels, number the
bottles, pour for some friends, and discuss the different tastes before revealing which wine is which. It's a great way to figure out
what you really think about wines without subconsciously taking the price and reputation into account. Choose a theme: a
specific grape or region, for example, or wines from a certain vintage. If you do something interesting, drop me a line and let me
know how it went.
Eric J. Lyman's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to him with comments, suggestions, and column
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