Question from Mark: I bought four bottles of Chardonnay several months ago. They looked light yellow at the time. Now, one of them has turned gold and the others are still pale. Is that gold bottle all right?
Reply: Hi, Mark. Thanks for writing! I’ll tell ya – color matters. If all four bottles had turned deep yellow or gold I’d assume they’re getting old and you better drink them. Most whites start out quite pale and deepen with age.
But this is different and there a a few different possibilities. When pale yellow wine suddenly turns gold something has happened to make it oxidize. The most likely reason for oxidation is a leaky cork. Check the fill height on the gold one. Is the bottle as full as the others? If not, some of the wine has leaked out and the air exposure oxidized the wine. If it’s spoiled it won’t hurt you, so go ahead and try it. If it tastes good, down the hatch! If it tastes weird you have every right to take it back – the cork failed to do its job. A little oxidation kills the fruit and leaves the wine flat. A lot of oxidation and you have something like vinegar or maybe fingernail polish remover.
Let me ask you some other questions. Did you have the wine stored in a cool, dark place? If it’s been too warm, all of the bottles may be suffering and that one just shows it the most. If the wine is in a place where it’s exposed to light, that can also be damaging – maybe that bottle got more light than the rest?
No matter what kind of wine it needs to be stored at a fairly constant 45 to 65 F – no big temperature swings – and keep it sideways if it has a cork. It should be protected from light. Leaving it in a case box works well. It’s okay if the bottles are nose down. What you don’t want is nose up.
I don’t suppose you put that one bottle in the car and maybe left it there on a warm day? As you know, the temperature in the car can change very quickly on a hot day. It doesn’t take long to make the wine expand and leak out through the cork. The heat can also brown the wine, so if it’s a brownish gold that may be the cause.
Here’s a bit of trivia for you: When wine is heat damaged we say that it’s maderized. The term comes from Madeira wine, which is quite a winemaking oddity because it’s baked! It’s really the only wine that’s supposed to look brown. Unfortunately baking your Chardonnay in a hot car doesn’t have the nice, caramelizing effect that it does for Madeira. It’s likely to smell like bad sherry and taste pretty flat. It may even go sour.
These are all things to keep in mind when you’re shopping. Unfortunately, not all retailers understand wine storage. If you see bottles standing up, gathering dust and the sun is beating in on them you should shop somewhere else. And watch out for white wines with very deep color in the sale bin!
So, my advice is to pop that baby and see how it tastes. If you do this with friends, you’ll need a back-up bottle so you’ll have something drinkable. Maybe one of the other three Chardonnays – fun comparison. I hope that helps. Cheers!
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