All of Your Wine Questions Answered
It seems like the internet is loaded with crazy ideas of how to make something better. Rub warts with garlic to remove them. Use newspaper to clean your glasses. Put butter on burns. Use hairspray to clean ink stains. Eat chocolate to improve your sex life. You got a problem, there’s a cure in your cupboard.
Wine has its cures, too. We hear them in what we call the “Is-it-true questions.” Here are a few we recently heard at just one public tasting we moderated:
Is it true that a raisin will restore the bubbles to a sparkling wine that has gone flat?
The web is loaded with references to this science trick – it was even demonstrated on the “Today” show. But responsible publications have sorted out the truth: raisins, because of their odd and wrinkled shape, can activate what carbon dioxide is left in a glass – but they can’t create more carbon dioxide.
We tried this experiment ourselves. Even CPR couldn’t revive a sparkling wine left open for longer than an hour. Yes, a raisin dropped in a glass an hour after the sparkling wine was poured made the bubbles dance a little, but it was all about the show and not the wine. And we pity anyone at a party who has to explain why there is a raisin in his glass.
Others say putting a spoon works better than a raisin.
The bottom line: Drink the sparkling wine before it goes flat.
Is it true that adding a penny to a corked wine will eliminate the offending flavors?
Early in our wine education days, we were at a lunch when a winemaker poured a wine that had obvious cork taint – a chemical process that takes place after a bottle is sealed with a bad cork.
A distributor wanted to save the wine and his client’s face and dropped a penny from his pocket into the expensive wine. We cringed but humored the desperate man and tried the wine. It tasted like a dirty penny.
We also have read that a wad of plastic wrap will restore a corked wine. Indeed, polyethylene will remove trichloroanisole (cork taint) from wine but it also removes the aromatics and other positive elements.
Nothing will save a cork-tainted wine -- period. However, a copper penny may eliminate a stinky sulfur component in a wine that suffers from a fermentation flaw called “reduction.” This flaw produces a compound called mercaptans that makes a wine taste sulfuric – think a freshly lit match – or like burnt rubber. Mercaptans won’t harm you, but you’re not going to like a stinky wine.
Copper can absorb mercaptans. However, coins minted after 1982 are mostly zinc. Maybe a piece of copper piping would work better than a coin. But we pity even more the guy walking around with an old penny or a hunk of copper pipe in his glass.
The bottom line: accept that you bought a flawed wine and dump it.
Is it true that whisking a bottle of wine in a blender will save a wine that is over the hill?
Several years ago, Modernist Cuisine author Nathan Myhrvold wrote that “hyper-decanting” will aerate a wine in 30 seconds, which easily beats the time it takes to adequate decant a wine naturally. We get it. But it isn’t necessary to spin your wine in the family blender to enjoy it.
Aerating wine is a good practice for almost all red wines. But hyper-decanting a wine won’t restore a wine’s vitality any more than a swig from the Fountain of Youth will make you young again. Over the hill wine, like age, is irreversible.
The thought of putting a great wine in a household blender we’ve used for sauces makes us pause. Will the hyper-decanted wine pick up last night’s tomato sauce that has stuck to the rubber top or worse the soap you used to clean it? This practice is no better than dunking into wine a dirty copper penny plucked from your grandfather’s coin collection.
Swirling a wine in your glass and witnessing its development over an hour is what makes the tasting experience so great. If you want to rush the process, use one of those little aerators that fit into a neck of a bottle. That’s a gadget that actually works.
Bottom line: save the blender for what Cuisinart intended.
Is it true that whirling a wine in the glass, then cupping your hand over the top, captures more aromatics?
The only time we cup our hand over a glass of wine is to protect it from fruit flies. That works pretty good until we just give up. But cupping a swirled glass of wine is more likely to pick up the aftershave you plastered on your face an hour ago or the garlic that was still clinging to the hand you just shook.
Called “orbital shaking” in physics, the swirling motion churns the liquid and draws in oxygen. That combination releases aromatic components such as flowers, herbs and spices. These elements help to offset the tannins and acids that some people find too pungent. But putting your hand over the top probably will abort this magic chemistry.
The bottom line: swirl the wine but save the hands for waving.
Spend more time in the cellar and less time on the internet.
Cooper & Thief Rye Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($60). It is hard to justify serving expensive wine to a football crowd grazing on junk food, but buy this for the cool factor. This Napa Valley wine spends six months in rye whiskey barrels and it comes in a spirit-shaped bottle. Rich and complex, it is best served alongside grilled and savory meat.
Casadei Sogno Toscana IGT 2016 ($20). Imported by Cline Sisters Imports, this blend of syrah, mourvedre and grenache is more like French than Italian. But a winning recipe in one country can be a winning recipe in another country. It has red berry aromas and flavors with hints of dark chocolate and spice.
Ramey Wine Cellars Claret 2016 ($42). Syrah – even in small amounts -- seems to be the common trick to give an otherwise Bordeaux blend some softness. We loved this serious, rich blend from David Ramey. Loads of extracted dark berry flavors with hints of vanilla and chocolate.