“Bad” Wine or Bad Manners?

 

Bad wine?

There seems to be a unique group of people out there who think it is acceptable to return a perfectly good bottle of wine after it is opened. They have no qualms returning an opened bottle to a store or declining one in a restaurant simply because it does not appeal to them. Not only is it rude, but it makes me wonder if they also do this with other things in their lives. Do they cook up a steak and return that to the store, half-eaten, if they are not enjoying it? Do they go to a movie, walk out and ask for a refund if they are not entertained? Life is all about taking chances and the same goes when making some purchases; they are not all “satisfaction guaranteed”. Return policies were put into place, mostly to take back items that are defective; unopened or unused purchases are taken back as a courtesy to customers. Some people will take advantage of this policy, even in the wine industry.

That is not to say there are not situations when it is quite appropriate to return an opened bottle of wine. During production or in storage, wine flaws can occur which will have a negative impact  on a wine’s aroma, color or taste. Here are the most common flaws you should be aware of:

A “Corked” Bottle Sometimes the cork used in bottling wine can become infected with a compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or TCA. This is what gives wine a moldy or musty aroma or what is called “corked” or “cork taint”. This tiny compound can also be found on winemaking implements or in some parts of the winery’s environment (barrels, walls, etc). 

The Color is Off If your red wine looks brownish, almost muddy, or your white wine is too deep a yellow, chances are your wine has oxidized. This is a chemical reaction that takes place when the wine is  harmfully exposed to air. This happens if a cork is not airtight enough in storage and also with wines you may have kept open too long. 

Bubbles or “Fizz” in Still Wines If still wine appears to have “tiny bubbles”, it would not “make me happy, make me feel fine”, as sung by Don Ho in the famous 1960s song. This means the wine is going through a second fermentation in the bottle and chances are it will be sour.

Should you drink wine that has any of these flaws, it will certainly be unpleasant, but there are no health risks to you. Returning wine to a store or letting your waiter/sommelier know, even if you suspect one of these flaws, is perfectly fine; you should not be embarrassed. Years ago at a restaurant with a friend, we ordered a bottle of Italian wine; I believe it was a Sangiovese. Tasting it first, I was a little unsure; I had my friend taste it as well. We both agreed that the wine was “bad”. This was before I took a class so I did not know the lingo; I just knew enough to sense something was not right and my friend agreed. Instead of taking the bottle back, the waiter sent over the manager, who tasted the wine and told us there was absolutely nothing wrong with the bottle. He made such a scene, eventually bringing over another bottle of something and we have not been back to that restaurant since. Bad wine, bad attitude, equals bad business.

If, for some reason, a bottle of wine that you purchased from a store does not appeal to you, you can actually repurpose it:

Use it for Cooking I have cubes of white wine and red in my freezer that I have on hand for adding flavor to cooking. Pour the bottle of wine into ice-cube trays and freeze. This also works if you have leftover (what?) wine. 

Make Vinegar You do not have to do a thing! Just leave a 3/4 full bottle of wine opened and out for a few weeks and it will convert to vinegar all by itself. Red or white – voila’!

Bacteria Killer This one I find fascinating and wish I knew sooner. A study done out of Oregon State University by food scientist, Mark Daeschel, concluded that there are attributes in wine that destroy or inhibit the growth of microorganisms, thus making it a great cleanser for fruits and vegetables, as well as a general disinfectant. After rinsing your produce in water, just run it under some wine; you do not want to soak it. By just rinsing you may pick up some wine flavor, which is just an added benefit as far as I am concerned.

Even if wine has gone bad, you can still use it for all of the above purposes.

So remember – returning bad wine, good; returning good wine, bad!

Cin Cin!

Have you ever returned a bottle of wine to a store? 

  1. Yes, it was “bad”.
  2. Yes, I opened it; did not like it.
  3. Yes, it was unopened; I knew I did not like it. (a gift?)
  4. No, never.
  5. No and I never will. I can find something to do with it.

Join in on our discussion!

Muscadet: My Latest Pour II

pour2

As the summer heat winds down (hopefully) here in the east, this week I opened a delicious bottle of Muscadet (pronounced “moose-kah-day”).

Located in the Loire Valley region of France, Melon de Bourgogne is the only grape variety permitted here to make this white wine. Because of this, the grape is sometimes just referred to as Muscadet. Other grapes are grown in this area but they must have a specific designation when they are used.

Not to be confused with the Muscat grape used to make Moscato, Muscadet is a dry, light-bodied wine with some citrus notes and high acidity. It is also known to have some briny notes due to the breezes coming off the sea. When bottled there is a small trace of carbon dioxide left, which gives Muscadet a slight effervescence.

Great as an aperitif or paired with some soft cheeses, Muscadet also goes well with chicken or fish, but especially shellfish. So belly up to a bowl of steamed clams in butter and garlic, chunk of bread in one hand and a glass of Muscadet in the other. What a great way to say good-bye to summer!

Cin Cin!

 

Chardonnay: Not All Butter & Toast

The commonly consumed Chardonnay from California is just not my “thing” and when asked for a recommendation for a buttery or oaky one, I am very honest with people. I tell them I prefer to actually taste the Chardonnay grape and not butter or toast. I do suggest wines that I know have those notes, but I cannot recommend them from experience. I, like a lot of people, had a very closed mind about Chardonnay, thinking they all tasted the same, until the classes I took led me to start tasting different wines and now it is a whole new (or should I say old) world for me. Let us explore the differences.

You may not realize this, but climate (different from weather) does affect grapes. Chardonnay grapes grown in warm regions like California will produce a wine fuller in body, less acidic, with tropical fruit notes. Whereas, grapes that are grown in cooler areas in the Burgundy region of France, will produce lighter, more acidic wines with citrus fruit notes. 

Before moving on, let me first explain the difference between New and Old World for those that may not know. New World wines are made in areas of the world that were developed during The Age of Exploration. They include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, the United States and Canada. Old World wines are made in areas where winemaking originated – basically in all of Europe.

To continue, Chardonnay is also one of the only white wines that truly benefits from aging in oak barrels by taking on the flavors of the oak. A lot of California Chardonnays are aged in new oak barrels. This imparts the vanilla, caramel and toasty notes. Chardonnays in France are aged in older barrels so you get very little oak flavor – these are considered unoaked. There are also others that are aged in stainless steel tanks.

To achieve the “buttery” aroma and mouth-feel, Chardonnay wine makers will sometimes take additional steps after fermentation and do a “secondary fermentation” or malolactic fermentation (MLF). This process converts the tart, green-apple components (which some of us like!) of malic acid into smoother, buttery attributes of lactic acid. This conversion is done with the use of a particular species of bacteria (yum!). Before you get grossed out and swear off your favorite California Chardonnay, please note that MLF is more often used in the production of red wines, since high acidity is something less desirable in reds. So you see, this makes total sense – most times. There is also another process wine makers can do to achieve the creamy texture, but it is an arduous technique, it has a French name and it will just confuse things.

One evening I brought a bottle of Chablis over to a friend’s house. Located in the most northern area of Burgundy, they are known for producing some of the tastiest Chardonnays, which is the only grape that region produces. Not a fan of Chardonnay, I asked my friend if she liked what we were drinking. After she told me she liked it, I confessed we were drinking a Chardonnay. She of course did not believe me at first and was amazed to realize that she, in fact, does like Chardonnay after all.

So if you too have avoided Chardonnay, try to find one that suits you – I am sure it is out there. If you like full-bodied whites with tropical fruit notes, but do not like oakiness, then try one that is aged in stainless steel. Or try an Old World Chardonnay from France so you can taste the bright flavors of the Chardonnay coming through. It is about trying different wines, educating yourself and learning it is not all butter and toast. Tell us about your favorite Chardonnay.

Cin Cin!

 

 

Gruner Veltliner: My Latest Pour I

Gruner Veltliner
Gruner Veltliner

In an earlier post, I mentioned Gruner Veltliner, a white wine grape that grows most notably in Austria. Pronounced “grew-ner velt-LEE-ner”, it is a dry wine known for lime, lemon and grapefruit flavors.

I opened a bottle of Gruner this week, which proved to be a very tasty pour. It was light, fruity, well-balanced, with a nice crisp finish. Gruner is also known to have peppery notes, which I have yet to detect. Maybe you can – please let me know!

Additionally, Gruner Veltliner is a very food-friendly wine; it can be paired with just about anything. From soft cheeses and vegetarian fare, to a host of meat, seafood, spices and sauces; it also stands quite well on its own.

If you are a fan of Sauvignon Blanc and want to try something new and a little different, you must pour a Gruner Veltliner – you will not be disappointed. Let me know what you think!

Cin Cin!

 

Common Wine Misconceptions

As a wine professional, I have encountered several wine misconceptions while engaging with the general public. Regions are mistaken for grapes, wines are sometimes confused with other wines, and region names are often used as generic descriptions.

Here are just a few of the common misconceptions I have observed:

Region Versus Grape

When asked for a Rioja recommendation, I usually steer someone towards my favorite grape, Tempranillo – the most produced red in the Rioja region of Spain. When once making the recommendation, I was asked, “What is that?”, the person mistakenly thinking Rioja was actually the grape. France can also be very confusing for some. I have crossed paths with many who have told me that they love Sancerre wine, thinking it is a grape. If I try to recommend another Sauvignon Blanc, they turn up their nose and tell me they do not like it. They are always very surprised to learn that Sauvignon Blanc is the primary white grape of Sancerre, a region in the Loire Valley. Sadly, the biggest misconception to me seems to be Chianti, which is a region in Tuscany, Italy. When I start talking about Sangiovese, the most cultivated grape in Chianti, some people look at me like I have two heads.

Zinfandel Versus White Zinfandel

When recommending Zinfandel wine from California, I have come across a number of people who have looked at me in horror. Just from that look, I know immediately they are confusing it with White Zinfandel. Before I can even explain, some will blurt out, “No – I do not like sweet wines!” When I finally clarify, they are relieved to hear that Zinfandel is a robust, red grape grown widely in California and that White Zinfandel is basically the rose’ or “blush wine” produced from that grape. Sadly, it seems Zinfandel has gotten a bad reputation because of its use to make White Zinfandel, but things are changing, be it slow for some.

Champagne Versus Sparkling Wine

Nine times out of ten, when someone asks me for Champagne I know they are asking for a sparkling wine. No matter, I will show them the Champagne, note the look on their face when they see the price and then lead them towards a less expensive sparkling wine. To be called Champagne, there are rules that must be followed. It has to be made from all or any of the three different grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) grown in the Champagne region and must be produced using the Champagne method. It is this method that makes the Champagne expensive because it is long and labor-intensive. For fine sparkling wines outside of Champagne this same arduous method is used, but it is called Traditional Method. Cheaper methods are used to make less expensive sparkling wines around the world.

For the most part, people are receptive to learning something new about wine. It is, however, hard to correct or educate everyone – sometimes you have to pick your battles. I find this true with this last misconception, since the word “Champagne” has become such a universal word to describe sparkling wine. Sometimes I don’t even correct people and only offer an explanation when asked. No doubt the French are just delighted that so many Americans refer to all sparkling wine as “Champagne”. And it must just tickle them, too, when we mix it with orange juice at brunch and pair it with our French toast! 

Cin Cin!

Wine of the Moment

At a recent wine event, I became engaged in a deep conversation with some enthusiasts about our favorite wines. When I first started drinking wine many years ago, I gravitated towards a specific varietal (usually red), exploring different vineyards from around the globe, until something else peaked my interest. At the time I considered myself a “varietal drinker” having had my share of Malbec, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo, before taking wine classes and expanding my inexperienced palate. Now I like to say that I am a “seasonal wine drinker” – red in fall and winter and white and rose’ in the spring and summer months. The majority of wine drinkers tend to fall into this category.

The gentleman I was speaking with had a very interesting way of choosing his, what I will call, “wine of the moment”. He explained that for him, environment has a lot to do with whether he is enjoying the wine he is drinking. Clarifying further, if he is enjoying the company of the people he is sharing the wine with or the place where the wine is opened, then that wine tends to be his favorite “wine of the moment”. Intrigued, I gave this some thought and agreed that this philosophical notion given to the wine experience really made some sense to me. 

I recalled a time long ago when I was at a vineyard with a group of friends in the Hudson Valley area of New York, which I will not name. It was a cool summer day in June, the conversations were flowing, along with the wine. Everyone was relaxed and having a good time. I had sampled a Chardonnay, which I am not normally drawn to, but on this particular day it tasted like heaven and I could not resist buying a bottle. Months later, I opened the bottle after a rough day at work (subconsciously looking to relive that day?) and I wondered, “Why the hell did I buy this?”

I can also see this approach come into play in one of my closest friendships. I have a good friend that I have known since first grade – we have laughed our way together through grade school and high school. These days we are still laughing and when we do get together it is usually a two bottle night for us. Having put this philosophical notion to the test together many times, I can honestly tell you, we have never had a bottle of wine that we did not enjoy. Our years of friendship and laughter have gotten us both through some pretty hard times in recent years. In turn, I can attribute a lot of great bottles of wine to our amazing friendship. Just this weekend my “wine of the moment” was a crisp, dry Gruner Veltliner. Oh, and as usual there was a second bottle – a refreshing Loire Valley Rose’. 

So make some exciting plans, gather up your friends or family, and open some bottles of wine. Maybe you too will find your “wine of the moment”. I would be interested to hear about them.

Cin Cin!