"Cooking" wine: An experiment
Is your wine ruined?
The conventional wisdom says so. Every wine expert will tell you that even brief exposure to extreme heat will destroy wine; and it seems obvious that heat sufficient to push out the cork can't be good for the nectar in the bottle.
But what exactly does happen? A note from reader Vance Gregory, an Oklahoma wine-shop proprietor, challenged me to find out.
To put it to the test, I purchased two identical bottles of Louis M. Martini 1998 California Cabernet Sauvignon, choosing this wine for the experiment partly because it is a sentimental favorite - Martini was one of the first wineries I ever visited, and I admire them for making quality wines at reasonable prices - and partly because I expected it to be a robust wine, capable of standing up to careless handling.
Then I waited for the next heat wave ... and in the Ohio Valley in June, it wasn't long coming: Highs in the lower 90s (33C) were forecast last Wednesday. At 9 a.m., I put one of the bottles in a bag, taped an oven thermometer to its side, and placed it on the front seat of my car parked in direct sunlight. Eight hours later, with the temperature outside reading 92 and the reading inside the car a toasty 120F (49C), I retrieved the bottle. It was hot to the touch, and the cork had pushed out approximately 1/2 inch (13mm), ripping the top of the capsule and shoving it aside.
I let the bottle cool, then pushed the cork back in and, a day or two later, served both bottles with dinner. (To make the test fair, I marked the heated bottle with a cryptic symbol, then asked my wife to pour them out of my sight, so neither of us knew which bottle had received the heat treatment.)
The results were, well, interesting. The differences between the wines were obvious, but neither was spoiled. The un-heated wine (described in detail in the tasting note below), was ripe, slightly tannic, rather simple, but showed the fruit, balance and structure to suggest aging potential. The heated wine seemed muted at first, but developed with a little air into something surprisingly like a more mature Cabernet; not so tannic but showing subtle, earthy nuances that made it more complex than its gently handled sibling.
This might suggest that a collector who wanted to enjoy aged wines quickly could short-cut the process by heating, a process not unlike that used to make Madeira. Frankly, I wouldn't recommend that! No matter how one isolated experiment comes out, it simply makes sense to take care of your wine and keep it cool ... and that goes double if you're talking about an expensive, ageworthy wine that you intend to keep for a long time. At the same time, the reassuring lesson is that, even if you make a mistake and let your wine get overheated, you needn't assume that it's ruined and can't still be enjoyed in the short term.
Have you had an experience that you would like to share involving wine that's been overheated or otherwise mistreated? To participate in this topic in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, click http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=1&tid=17565. Or if you prefer, send me E-mail at email@example.com. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.
Please tell your wine-loving friends about The 30 Second Wine Advisor (weekly) and Wine Advisor Express (daily), and invite them to register for their own free subscription at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor.
Excellent Value Cabernet
This wine (not the bottle that was deliberately mishandled) is a clear garnet color, with ripe, appealing Cabernet aromas - blackcurrant and cedar - and juicy black-fruit flavors over a good acidic structure and soft but perceptible tannins. It gains richness and complexity over a couple of hours in the glass, hinting at the surprising ageworthiness that has long been typical of Martini's Cabernets. (June 14, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: Works quite well with a simple dish of chicken thighs fricaseed with onions and served with a light sauce of yogurt with black olives.
Simply click to http://chef-of-the-month.com/rank/winesites.shtml, locate WineLoversPage.com on the list, click RATE ME in the right-hand column, and select the rating you feel appropriate. (Hint: Five stars would be nice.)
While you're there, scan the list for other wine-related Websites that you like ... you may "vote" for as many as you wish, as long as you don't "stuff the ballot box" by voting for your favorites more than once per day. Although this is strictly a popularity poll, we would naturally like to do well, and you can help. Thanks!
Dedicated to sharpening your wine-tasting palate by learning to record your impressions and share them with others, WINE TASTING 101 is an interactive online forum in which participants will try the same wine (a new one will be featured each month), then post a tasting report for comment and encouragement in a civil, supportive atmosphere.
This month's wine is PAUL JABOULET AINE 1998 "PARALLELE '45'" COTES-DU-RHONE, a modest French red that should be available in most parts of the world for $10 or less.
I hope you'll click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/wt101.shtml for the details.
You are on the subscription list because you registered during a visit to Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page. To change your E-mail address, switch from the weekly (Mondays only) to daily distribution, or for any other administrative matters, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. And of course we welcome feedback, suggestions, and ideas for future columns. We do not use this list for any other purpose and will never give or sell your name or E-mail to anyone.
All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Vol. 3, No. 22, June 18, 2001