Blackouts, summer heat and wine
Massive blackouts darkened New York City and many other cities in the Northeastern United States and Canada yesterday, leaving millions still without power during the hottest days we've seen this summer.
Meanwhile, the hottest summer in many years is baking much of Europe, where searing temperatures rising above 40C (over 100F) are causing discomfort or worse: The French government has blamed "thousands" of deaths already on the unaccustomed heat.
It may seem trivial to fret about such a thing amid the more serious concerns involved with the heat wave of 2003, but let's face it: One big question on the mind of a lot of worried wine lovers today is, "WHAT ABOUT MY WINE!?"
I'm already getting questions from nervous readers (perhaps using battery-operated computers by candlelight) worrying whether the rising temperatures in their apartments are going to kill the treasures in their temperature-controlled storage units ... or even wine kept in commercial cellaring facilities.
Assuming that things return to normal reasonably soon, I don't think there's much to worry about. It's not going to be comfortable for wine or people, but the chances are that neither you nor your wine will be severely damaged by the heat.
Parked indoors in wine racks, particularly if they're already in insulated quarters, stored wine bottles may be uncomfortably warm, but it's unlikely that it will get hot enough to push the corks out or do permanent damage. One hint, though: If you're using a cellar unit, don't keep opening the door to check. You'll just lose what little cool air remains inside. (Same goes for your refrigerator, to the extent that you can avoid it.)
When we lived in New York City a few years ago, I kept quite a few bottles on wine racks in our lightly air-conditioned second-story apartment in Astoria, where the temperature on summer afternoons usually rose into the 80sF (30C). This treatment isn't recommended, but I continued drinking my modest Bordeaux and Italian reds with pleasure, and still have a few of those bottles around today.
Remember also, as I reported in the May 19 Wine Advisor, many of the greatest producers of Bordeaux, even the fabled Chateau Margaux, store their wines in above-ground buildings called chais, where the natural temperatures vary widely beyond the limited range that the experts judge ideal.
To make a long story short, certainly a constant 55F (13C) is ideal for the long-term storage of collectible wines. But this blackout, and the summer's heat, isn't likely to ruin what's on your wine rack.
Now, here's a tasting report on a cool and affordable white wine from a sunny part of France, a four-year-old item that has likely survived a few warm summer days:
La Vieille Ferme 1999 Cotes du Luberon Blanc ($7.59)
At least two years behind the current release but still widely available in the marketplace, this blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Ugni Blanc grapes offers an excellent demonstration of the way that white Rhone varieties gain richness and complexity at levels of oxidation that would kill less robust whites. A pretty bright gold color reveals some oxidation, but the aroma is pleasant and appealing, white fruit and light nutlike aromas of almonds and hazelnuts, not at all like the dank, walnutty Sherry-like quality of a wine spoiled by air exposure. It's very full and rich in flavor, almost unctious fruit and nut-butter, laced up with firm, citrus-juice acidity. White fruit and hazelnut notes persist in a clean, long finish. U.S. importer: Vineyard Brands Inc., Birmingham, Ala. (Aug. 14, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Made for seafood, it might overwhelm more delicate dishes but was a hit with a flavorful dinner of pan-seared scallops with a ginger-lime reduction served on a bed of mixed greens.
VALUE: For complexity and flavor interest, it's hard to beat this fire-sale price.
WHEN TO DRINK: I don't see any reason that this 4-year-old shouldn't last another year or two before its oxidation becomes objectionable; newer vintages ought to hold commensurately.
WEB LINK: Domaines Perrin has its Website in English at
South African wine maker gets French goat
Remember my past tasting reports on Charles Back's Goats Do Roam, the fun, affordable wine with the funny label and punning name that has become the biggest-selling South African wine in the U.S.?
Now Back has gotten into a legal wrangle with the French Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO), which is challenging that label and his Goat-Roti and Goat d'Afrique brands, charging that these names unfairly resemble the French controlled appellations Cotes du Rhone and Cote-Rotie.
Earlier this month, Back brought a goat-masked entourage and a herd of goats to the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry and French Trade Commission in Cape Town for a media event. With cameras rolling, he offered the French attache a magnum of Goats do Roam wine, a selection of Fairview goats milk cheeses ... and a bag of goat manure.
"Since the Goats range comprises a large percentage of our production, it could result in losing a substantial portion of our business if we had to withdraw the range," he said.
You can read the full news release in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group forum and, if you wish, join in an online discussion about it with other wine lovers. Click to
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Friday, Aug. 15, 2003