Monthly Archives: May 2011

What If my Wine is Cloudy?

Question from Gordon: Does it matter if a great tasting wine is cloudy? 

Reply: Hi, Gordon. Thanks for writing! 

My philosophy has always been that if it tastes good it is good. Clarity is the ideal, so haziness or cloudiness always makes my antennae go up – there could be some kind of microbiological naughtiness going on in there. But, I have to say I’ve pulled the cork on some pretty scary looking wines that were absolutely delicious. And, even if something’s gone wrong the wine won’t hurt you. It might offend you, though. If it tastes weird, take it back.

Others feel less tolerant, thinking that even if it tastes fine, is it as good as it was meant to be? They would recommend taking it back to the retailer and getting a replacement bottle. The bottle should be nearly full if you’re going to return it 😉 It’s a way of finding out if it was just that one bottle or if it’s just the nature of the wine. Unless, of course, you get a bottle from the same case. It could be that there’s batch variation and that retailer received the cloudy batch…

Possible causes of cloudiness or lack of clarity? 

Some varieties resist clarification techniques the wine maker has at hand. And, some wine makers don’t like to process the wine too much for fear of taking away the angels with the devils. They feel that filtration or fining strip the wine of its character. I remember one very famous wine writer, who has an ax to grind when it comes to filtration, referring to a very expensive bottle of Cabernet as “eviscerated!”   Continue reading


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Q & A: Is Dryness in Wine Relative?

Question from Jon: I remember from my early days, just getting into wine, I took a component tasting class at Merryvale. What kept blowing all us away is that whenever we were asked if a wine we were tasting had any residual sugar, we always said, “yes.” But the correct answer kept coming back as “bone dry!” 

Reply: In truth, Jon is the owner of Pantheon Cellars these days so, for him, this question was answered yea, long ago. But it’s still a good one!

In my early days, like most novices, it was comforting to cling to absolutes and my answer to the question would probably have been “No.” But, as we learn more about virtually everything in life – not just wine – we figure out that there are many shades of gray. It makes life more complicated, but also more interesting don’t you think? 

Here’s the deal: If you work in the absolute environment of a wine lab then you’d know that we say the wine is dry if it measures half of a percent sugar or less. Winemakers generally let the yeast use up all the ferment-able sugar, when they set out to make a dry wine, and that will put them at around .02% or something like that – very, very dry. However…

Fruitiness tricks your brain/palate into detecting sugar that ain’t there. When I serve a bone-dry Viognier there’s a pretty good chance that the taster will say “This is too sweet for me – do you have anything drier?” And, I’ve learned that this taster actually doesn’t much care for very ripe, fruity wines.  Continue reading

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What is Fortified Wine?

Question from Michael: I think you made reference to “fortified wine” in a previous post. Can you explain what it is?

Reply: Thanks for asking, Michael, and shame on me for tossing wine jargon without explaining it! 

The phrase immediately brings to mind wonderful, often robust, wines like Port, Sherry and Madeira. A bump up in alcohol due to added grape spirits (the spirits are the “fortification”) provides much of the heft. And, my knee-jerk reaction is to also think of dessert wine.

Let me quickly make some exceptions. Fino Sherry isn’t so robust and it isn’t sweet. It’s bone dry and only fortified to 15% alcohol – no higher than a number of warm-climate red wines. It makes a very nice dry aperitif. In fact, Sherry wine, in general, is designed to be dry. When it’s sweet it’s because the winery added sweet wine to dry Sherry. And, Sercial Madeira is tangy and dry.

But those exceptions are still fortified wines because spirits are added at some point. If the wine is meant to be dry, it’s fortified after the fermentation is over. If the winemaker’s shooting for a sweet wine, the spirits are introduced during the fermentation, before the yeast has used up all the grape sugar.   Continue reading

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Why Do I Get Wine Headaches?

Question from Jill: Why do I get wine headaches?

Reply: Hi, Jill. I’m sorry to hear about that. I’m no physician and very little is understood about this, but it seems the last thing any of us choose to blame is the most likely culprit – the alcohol!

However, there are other possible causes:

Red Wine Headache Syndrome: If you only react to red wine, you may be a member of this not-so-small group of wine lovers. For some people, it takes only a small amount of red wine to set off a nasty headache that may last a very long time. It’s common enough that a great number of studies have been done. Medical researchers have tested their subjects on cheap and expensive wine, domestic and imported wine and it doesn’t make any difference.

Bottom line: They don’t know. But, what they’ve learned is that taking NSAIDS, like aspirin or ibuprofen, before drinking red wine blocks the reaction for many people. If you take it after, it’s too late.

Some doctors theorize that it has to do with prostaglandins, which some people can’t metabolize. Others blame histamines, but there are many foods that are higher in histamines than wine. Still others point to other amines, like tyramines. Continue reading

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Are the Sample Sized Wines Any Good?

Question from Mira: Are the sample-sized bottles I’ve seen for sale online any good?

Reply: This is a very good question because bottling is one of the most precarious times in a wine’s life. Oxygen exposure along the way puts the wine at risk for spoilage. A wine that tastes perfectly good today may spoil and become undrinkable after weeks or months in the bottle if it picked up too much oxygen.

I should add that spoiled wine isn’t harmful. So, if you notice something suspicious about your wine go ahead and try it. If it tastes good, down the hatch. If it tastes weird, down the drain! Or take it back.

I think there are a few companies repackaging wine in tasting-sized samples and I absolutely love the concept. It makes is easy and affordable to do comparative tastings at home with your friends – just as if you were in a winery tasting room.

The only company I’ll vouch for is called I had the chance to see what they’re doing at their decanting facility first hand. They’ve gone to great lengths to be sure that when the wine is transferred from the normal, 750 ml, bottle to the tiny sample-size bottle it’s a completely anaerobic situation. It’s done in a sealed, zero-oxygen chamber. In fact, they say that you can even be sure that the wine is free of cork taint and other types of spoilage because it’s tested before it leaves their facility. That’s something a winery can’t do.

You could get a bunch of friends together, have each person order the same kit of six bottles and do a tasting together. To me, that’s the best and also the most fun way to learn more about wine. Go for it! Cheers!

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Like Wine? Stop HR 1161

I didn’t start this blog to be political, but sometimes it’s important to make an exception.

Our nation’s wholesalers, in order to line their pockets, continue with their attempt to steamroller bill after bill through Congress that make it it difficult, if not impossible, for wineries to sell their wine directly to you. These are people who make their money by getting the wine, beer or spirits from the producer to the retailer or restaurateur.

If this very powerful special interest group gets their way they will have control over which wines you get to enjoy at home. No more wine club shipments. And, it will eliminate quite a number of small, family wineries from your shopping list. Most distributors can’t be bothered with the little guys.

This bill is called House Resolution 1161, the Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act is sitting in Congress right now. Tom Wark explains it much better than I can. Unfortunately, it’s picking up steam. I hope you read his article in Zester Daily

If you’re pushed for time, let me give you a link that makes it easy to contact your Congressman. I just did it and it took less than a minute. If you want to keep informed, here are two more links for you: Free the Grapes and the Stop HR 1161 Facebook Page

On to fun wine stuff tomorrow! Cheers! 

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