Is that broken glass in my wine?
If you haven't encountered this before, you may find it alarming. I fairly frequently get E-mail from worried wine lovers, concerned that this foreign substance may be dangerous. Is it broken glass? A hazardous or toxic contaminant? It's better to be safe than sorry, so I'm glad to have people ask.
The answer is simple: Don't worry! The crystals are potassium tartrate in crystalline form, essentially similar to the cream of tartar on your pantry shelf. This deposit sometimes occurs in wines (regardless of their youth or age) if they have been stored at an unusually cold temperature, or in wines that the wine maker chose not to put through industrial processes such as fine filtration or cold stabilization.
The crystals are odorless, flavorless and harmless, but they are not particularly pleasant to find in your glass simply because of their crunchy texture. In an extreme case, as I noted in the July 17 feature on refrigerating wine, http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/tswa071700.shtml, it is possible that a wine exposed to near-freezing temperatures could precipitate out so much of its acidity that its natural flavor balance would be changed for the worse; but this is unlikely.
If you notice a deposit of crystals when you open a bottle, it's best to try to avoid pouring them into your glass, not because they're unhealthy but because most of us don't care for a crunchy texture in our wine!
Savvy consumers should also bear in mind that some wine shops - aware that most people don't like the idea of crystals in their wine - will offer a dramatic markdown on afflicted bottles. This might be a way to pick up something interesting for a fire-sale price.
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A crisp, dry rosé
The dog days of August (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) call for light, fruity and refreshing wines that can be served well chilled. This one from Southern France fills the bill: It's a clear, attractive light-copper color, with pleasant berry and herbal aromas and a crisp, fresh flavor that shows plenty of fresh fruit along with ample zippy acidity to make it a fine food match. To its credit, although it's refreshing cold, it holds its balance and actually shows more flavor complexity as it warms in the glass. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (July 30, 2000)
FOOD MATCH: An unexpectedly good match with a vegetarian delight, baba ganouj, a garlicky Middle Eastern smoked eggplant dish somewhat akin to hummus.
Best fuel for cooking?
California Wine Club
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Vol. 2, No. 28, July 31, 2000