Whenever people ask me a question about wine, I have an answer.
Admittedly, sometimes it’s “I have no idea” or “Let’s see what Mr. Google has to say.” But as I have become more immersed in the wine world, I generally can come up with a reasonably good response for all but the most arcane queries.
Here is what inquiring minds have quizzed me about recently:
Baby, it’s hot outside, and I have nothing chilled for my friends. What’s the quickest way to get something in their glasses?
Unless you have a bucket or cooler that’s about 50-50 ice and water, use the freezer. For quicker results, wrap the bottle in a wet cloth beforehand. For non-disastrous results, set a timer for 20 minutes for rosé or bubbles, 15 for lighter-bodied whites and 10 for chardonnay. Your wine should be ready, and you won’t forget about it and end up with an exploded bottle a couple of hours later.
You’ll still want to keep the wine in an ice bucket or cooler. And on warm and especially hot days, chill red wines, especially lighter ones, such as pinot noir. When wine gets warm, the aromas and flavors are muted; “yum” can become “yuck.”
One of my favorite ways to keep wines cool in the glass is to plop in some grapes that have been in the freezer; they work like ice but don’t dilute the wine.
I’m a happy passenger on the rosé bandwagon, but what’s the deal with this stuff called “orange wine”?
Well, like the mega-popular pink stuff, these come in a range of hues. Their color is a result of extended skin contact, especially with darker “white” grapes such as pinot gris/grigio. After the grapes are crushed and sent to fermentation vessels, the skins are included rather than discarded — the same method used with red grapes.
The resulting wines tend to be bolder, more complex and might even have tannins.
While this is a trendy category, it is far from new, dating to wine’s earliest days in the Republic of Georgia and having a long-running tradition in Italy’s Friuli region and neighboring Slovenia, where the wines are often aged in amphorae. New World vintners are embracing the technique as well.
Like most every aspect of fermented grape juice, there are few givens: If you like the first orange wine you try, that doesn’t mean you will like them all, and vice versa. But most of them are well-made and interesting (and not just the Minnesota definition of “interesting”).
Yikes! Why does the wine I just ordered look like dishwater?
It’s almost certainly because the wine is unfined and unfiltered. During the second half of the 20th century, almost all wines were fined (using an agent to bind solids so they can be removed before bottling) and filtered (pushed through a mesh-like membrane to remove to remove bacteria and yeast). Both practices ostensibly improved stability while definitely enhancing clarity.
More recently, many vintners have come to believe that something is lost in these processes: flavor, character, distinctiveness. Among the wineries that forgo fining and filtration: Burgundy’s revered Domaine de la Romanée Conti.
There’s no right or wrong here; it tends to revolve around the winemaker’s preferences, and the quality either way rests in his or her hands. If the wine seems off-putting, try sipping it with eyes closed.
Side note: Wines often are fined using egg whites, and anything made that way cannot be labeled “vegan.” Fortunately, we’ve moved past the days when ox blood was a popular fining tool.
I read about all of the terrible fires in Napa and Sonoma last year during harvest season. Should I be careful about buying 2017 wines from there?
No. Most of the harvest was completed when the fires hit, and wineries used separate tanks for grapes picked during and after the blazes. They have been carefully monitoring the juice since then; if they detect smoke, they either perform a process called “reverse osmosis” — basically separating all the components, removing the smoke, putting the rest back together and hoping for the best (sometimes the smoke re-appears).
Nothing is more important to good wineries than protecting their reputation, so they almost certainly won’t slap their brand names on labels if they fear the wine inside is objectionable. What they might do is sell those lots on the bulk market, so we could see smoky wines with just North Coast or California on the label. But it should be safe to buy Napa and Sonoma appellation stuff.
To wit: In 2008, forest and brush fires left a pall of smoke over many Mendocino County vineyards for two months. Duckhorn decided to declassify most of the affected grapes from its Goldeneye label and use them for its decidedly cheaper Decoy line. Drinking that was akin to licking an ashtray (not that I’ve ever done that).
The Duckhorn folks even gave winemongers a head’s-up about how smoky the wine was. And when I talked to retailers about it later, they said their (forewarned) customers who liked the wine loved it, buying it by the case. The best guess: These folks were either smokers or had just quit smoking and were jonesing.
As they say, everyone’s palate is different.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.